Review | A Steady Rain: solid

Peter Christian Hansen and Dustin Bronson in A STEADY RAIN. Photo by DreamFirstBorn Images.

Of all the horrific things that have happened over the past fifty years the Jeffrey Dahmer story stands out. What makes it especially distressing is that a fourteen-year-old boy escaped from Dahmer’s basement apartment, ran naked to two Milwaukee police officers and pled for help. The policemen, not comprehending the seriousness of the situation, allowed the serial killer to retrieve his victim. Dahmer murdered the boy and cannibalized his body as he had done with many others. This stomach churning tale is the basis for A Steady Rain by screenwriter Keith Huff.

In A Steady Rain (at the new Gremlin, through Feb 3), Huff has moved to the drama to Chicago and a fictional pair of patrolmen, best friends from childhood, deal with the mean streets and temptations of inner city life. Joey is a single white male with a drinking problem. Denny is married with children. They both yearn to be promoted to detective but Denny is by far the tougher of the two. At the beginning of the show Joey is socially ill at ease and follows Denny’s lead in most things. Denny is controlling and abusive and it’s clear that Denny has a hair-trigger emotional edge honed on his insecurities. He regularly shakes down prostitutes for money and sexual favors. When a local pimp gets tired of Denny getting in the way of his profits, there’s a drive-by shooting at Denny’s home and Denny’s two-year-old son is critically hit with flying glass. From there things get even more intense.

At its core this is a good cop/bad cop story. It had a successful run on Broadway in 2009, with Hugh Jackman, and is now in striking production on the Gremlin Theatre’s new stage in St Paul. What makes the story and this production notable is that it never loses sight of the essential humanity of its characters. Huff’s play may border on being over the top but the acting never is.

The drama begins with cross-cut monologues by Denny (Dustin Bronson) and Joey (Peter Christian Hansen) and then turns to longer, solo monologues. Virtually all the speeches are directly addressed to the audience which suits a play about alienation, failure and disrespect of even one’s closest friend. Bronson and Hansen stick to their characters while impressively filling the stage with highly charged language. In Bronson’s hands, Denny’s smart-ass swagger evolves into crippled tension and his blue eyes fade behind a hawkish nose and jutting jaw as his situation becomes more untenable. By contrast, in the second act, Hansen’s Joey becomes less malleable by degrees as his stance widens and his shoulders broaden. We’re all familiar with clichéd policeman patois from movies and TV. Bronson and Hansen, under the skilled direction of Ellen Fenster, steer clear of overdoing the staccato, beat-patrolman language in favor of emotional content.

In a stripped-down play lighting (impressively design by Carl Schoenborn) and sound (fine-tuned by Katharine Horowitz) become even more important as every nuance stands out. A lengthy shadow, the glow of a blue light, the sound of steady rain or a sudden clap of thunder all do their bit to modulate what is happening on stage.

In the end, Denny’s tragic flaw is his stout refusal to ever examine his own failings. One rationalization leads to another pile of excuses and another calamity. Despite the resulting confusion and chaos this is a play about two very sympathetic human beings. A Steady Rain shows us the very thin line between good choice and bad choice, loyalty and betrayal.

Please visit Mari’s informational website.

And note: A Steady Rain was produced a few years ago in the Dowling Studio at the G. You may read John Olive’s review here.

 

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