Chicago Theater Review: A STEADY RAIN (Chicago Dramatists Theatre)

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by Paul Kubicki on July 15, 2012

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

STEADY AS IT GOES

A Steady Rain, Chicago Dramatists’ prodigal son, has finally come home, giving audiences a chance to sit down again with Denny and Joey, the two cops that disturbed the hell out of them back in 2007. Keith Huff’s play has had a whirlwind several years, produced in major theatres across the country, including a Broadway run in 2009 starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. Now it is back in its small, original space, with the cast that helped bring it to life. Though it’s not what the hype made it out to be, A Steady Rain will still knock the wind out of you.

Told through a series of mixed monologues and some dialogue, A Steady Rain is the story of Denny, an abominable Chicago cop who doesn’t quite play by the rules, who’s unconventional methods begin to collapse in on him. His friend childhood friend turned duty partner Joey is taken along for the ride, enabling much of his behavior until it becomes dangerous for both of them.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of A STEADY RAIN at Chicago Dramatists

Randy Steinmeyer and Peter DeFaria offer honed, absolutely excellent performances as Denny and Joey (respectively). The two have magnificent chemistry and are so immersed in their roles that it’s hard not to forget that they’re actors, rather than bona fide, weathered Chicago cops. Though told only through monologues and dialogues between the two characters, Steinmeyer makes Denny’s descent a visceral experience, though it feels inevitable from the start. The moment he begins speaking, it becomes clear that it can’t end well—even his relatively upbeat dialogue is layered with misogyny and ethnocentrism that triggers immediate distaste for this good-old-boy. Steinmeyer impressively staves off our utter contempt for this loathsome character to preserve elements of tragedy, but ultimately it’s hard to sympathize.

DeFaria’s Joey is a bit more complex. He finds courage to stand up to his friend far too late, but DeFaria makes this transformative process believable, so much so that the audience yearns to yell out at him and tell him to get the hell away from Denny. Now that I’ve seen Steinmeyer and DeFaria in these roles, it’s hard to imagine them being played by anyone else with the same authenticity.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of A STEADY RAIN at Chicago Dramatists

Russ Tutterow returns as director, having helmed the play’s original run at Dramatists, and the best thing he does is step out of the way—or rather, seems to do so; he lets his two superb actors drive the show without ever feeling unnatural—making it somewhat difficult to think of this production as having a director. Tom Burch’s set is simple, a table, two chairs, looking like a table in a police department. Jeff Pines’ lighting is also quite simple, though slight changes (when it rains) really add to the drama. As the play gained attention, it began being staged in larger and larger theatres—it became more of an event than a theatrical experience, even staged in the not-so-intimate Gerald Schoenfeld theatre. This is a play that was written for a small space, and should remain there. Tutterow and his design team should be commended, then, for removing all of the mitigating factors that stripped this play of its raw power.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of A STEADY RAIN at Chicago DramatistsThat said, Keith Huff’s play is certainly  gripping, but subtlety is not quite his game. There is little here in the way of moral ambiguity—Denny is utterly hateful, albeit charming. Joey has to make a few tough decisions, but they mostly have fairly clear moral answers (other than a highly questionable affair). The tale ultimately boils down to a cop on a hubristic power trip and his partner with an inferiority complex who can’t quite manage to stand up to him. Casualties ensue.

And when I say casualties ensue, I mean Huff just piles it on. The story packs in so much trauma that it begins to feel implausible and it’s hard not to disconnect. I was rolling my eyes and crying at the same time—the crying because the performances were brilliant, the eye-rolling because the writing was not. There are also a few painful moments where Huff tries to force dialogue about rain, as if he chose the title and then decided he needed it to be more relevant. It’s an obnoxiously cliché metaphor which the play would be more effective without.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of A STEADY RAIN at Chicago Dramatists

Furthermore, it focuses so heavily on their relationship for so long that once it reaches its dramatic height, it is a full sprint to the finish. Suddenly everything starts falling apart and you have no time to focus on any one significant event, all of which seem far more important than the collapse of Denny and Joey’s friendship. After the more peripheral tragedies unfold, the main one isn’t quite as dramatic because it seems minor by comparison. We’re still on board, but Huff just keeps on punching us in the gut until we can’t help but start to feel a little numb.

None of this is to say that this national sensation isn’t worth seeing. DeFaria and Steinmeyer are not to be missed. A Steady Rain is, and seems to have always been, very good without being brilliant. It delivers some seriously heavy blows, however blunt some of those might be.

[for Stage and Cinema’s Bay Area review of A Steady Rain earlier this year, click here.]

photos by Jeff Pines

A Steady Rain
Chicago Dramatists
ends on Sept 2, 2012
for tickets, visit Chicago Dramatists

tour continues in Milwaukee, WI and Three Oaks, MI
tour ends November 2, 2012
for tour dates and tickets, visit Chicago Commercial Collective

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