A Steady Rain
By Keith Huff
Silence Of The Cops
As if obeying a celestial director with cloud-seeeding powers, the heavens opened as TLT drove up in oilskins and galoshes to the Arcola Theatre for A Steady Rain. This is the Chicago-based 2007 two-hander that proved the breakthrough work for Wisconsin writer and Windy City resident Keith Huff who went on to pen TV's Mad Men and House of Cards.
The piece charts the lives of two Chicago cops, friends since Catholic school and church, working the same beat as partners in the police force. So far, so stereotypical. But this is no standard police procedural but a sly sleight-of-hand stage play dependent on the testimonies of the protagonists and off stage action.
Gradually, through shifting monologues, interspersed with interaction between the two, we learn Denny, a family man and moral crusader with shades of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, nevertheless finagles protection money from prostitutes and cheats on his wife.
Meanwhile Joey lives alone taking solace in the bottle, nurturing a hidden passion for Denny's wife. The two are linked by their chosen career, immersion in the Chicago underworld and their grievances at lack of promotion. Yet they are lives also shaped and buffetted by politics, media headlines, real estate, drugs, murder and mayhem, movies and TV, the two men coming from a generation shaped and united by televison, its ideals and its exposés..
This production premiered at the East Riding Theatre in Yorkshire directed by Anthony Pearson with Vincent Regan reprising here the role of Denny Lombardo and David Schaal as Joey Doyle.
The stage area is a black box designed by Ed Ullyart encased in the round by banks of audience seats on three sides looking down on a platform, slightly raised from the floor, sloping to street drains. On the back wall projections evoke the wider world but also a more claustrophobic sense of looking through a letterbox.
A Steady Rain works as a straight forward anti hero plot tracing the disintegration of the partnership, a marriage, a man's sanity, painting a portrait of life on the Chicago streets. But it's far more intricate than that with its interactions between TV drama, crime that hits the headlines and compromised real lives.
The play grips with its two performances by Regan and Schaal ratcheting up the tension, although it's a tricky balance to maintain with the story filtered through the characters' own words rather than shown. The stuff of TV melodrama and poetically biblical archetypes seep through like water from overflowing drains.
For the most part, director Anthony Pearson manages to keep the equilibrium of the play.
As the characters move into extremes, a fatal mistake leads to a gruesome cannibalistic murder of a Vietnamese child inspired by the Jeffrey Dahmer murders and eventually breaks brotherly bonds forcing a tragic private and public repositioning.
By the final scenes we are drawn into the psychological world of the relentless beating rain coming into earshot (sound uncredited in the programme). At times, the play almost becomes a little heavy handed, but the dark subject matter of A Steady Rain has a redeeming wit and a political nous for which we award our coveted green light.