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A CurtainUp Review
A Steady Rain
By Elyse Sommer
What you want to know, of course, is whether Craig and Jackman live up to all the hype. Indeed they do! The pairing is not just a savvy celebrity casting trick!
The two actors are truly a dynamic duo. Without a lot of fancy staging (nor Bond-ish gadgetry Wolferine style metal claws) both deliver the goods. Whether breaking the fourth wall with their lengthy situation-stuffed monologues or interacting with each other, Craig and Jackman make theatrical gold out of a good but not extraordinary psychological thriller. Huff's script is structured to keep both actors on stage throughout its 90-minute running time, providing each actor with an equally meaty role that enhances this double star performances with a non-competitive rapport.
Though best known for their screen personas, these are seasoned stage actors, and it shows. They don't just rely on charisma, though it's abundantly evident, in Jackman's Denny as well as Craig's decidedly un-Bondlike, milktoasty-looking Joey. Both actors know how to get inside their characters and project their voices. The Australian Jackman and British Craig even manage to do creditable Chicago accents.
If Huff's play were written as one of the numerous TV cop franchises it resembles, it obviously wouldn't be a two-hander but actually have some of the problems in Joey and Denny's job and home lives acted out with other actors playing the characters who populate their monologues (Denny's wife, and brother, a prostitute he tries to fix up with Joey, her nasty and dangerous pimp and the men's superintendent). While this is probably going to be the case when the screenplay Huff is said to be working on materializes, the two-way storytelling format actually works to the advantage of the play.
John Crowley, who also directed the much and justly praised The Pillowman, four years ago, and his superb design team have created a stylish film noir flavor: the bare bones set features just two chairs and overhead lights typical of a movie or TV show's interrogation room. Subly lit projection on the back wall provide occasional glimpses of the Chicago streetscape the men patrol.
Above all, the production is geared to give the audience what it's come for: to see Craig and Jackman in the flesh (though no flesh is ever bared). The program does list understudies (C. J. Wilson for Craig and Danny Mastrogiorgio for Jackman) and while I'm sure they are fine actors, having either of the main players out for a performance would severely test the audience's willingness to stay the course.
The play's title is quite apt. An often mentioned, unceasing rainy spell serves is an omen that we're watching a Chicago style Greek tragedy that will explode the lives and long-term friendship of macho Italian-American Dennyy and introverted Irish-American Joey.
As the men take turns telling their side of the events that take the initially humorous monologues and occasional duologues to the play's inescapably melodramatic conclusion we learn that they've been passed over for promotion to detective three time, what the obviously prejudiced Denny calls "reverse prejudice." Being quick with the racial slurs is hardly Denny's only problem. He's a case of a good cop gone bad in the worst sense . The quieter, unmarried Joey is no angel either. As he's covered up for Denny's flirtation with life on the dark side, so Dennyy has helped him control his drinking habits by making him part of his family. If that familial inclusion makes Joey's relationship with Denny's wife Connie predictably over-intense, it's offset by Craig's terrifically complex portrayal of this calm on the surface but still-waters-run deep man.
Though Huff's play is weighed down by enough subplots for serializing a TV version of A Steady Rain for the better part of a season, the spare staging and focus on the two police partners — and, naturally, the men playing them — it makes enough of an impact for that rain to feel like a theatrical cloudburst.
With another Chicago play, Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts playing right across the street (Curtainup's review shortly), the windy city is certainly taking Broadway by storm.