Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
A Steady Rain
Also see Arty's reviews of Superior Donuts, The Last Five Years and Ishmael
A Steady Rain is set in Chicago, where Huff makes his home, and premiered there in 2007. In 2008 it won three Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best New Work and Best Production. It arrived on Broadway in fall 2009 in a limited run that starred Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. The show was a great financial success (Jackman and Craig can have that effect), but the star-casting overshadowed the strengths of the play itself.
In this pairing, Joey is the "good cop," a bachelor with a tendency toward self-effacement who is fighting off a serious drinking problem. Denny is the "bad cop," a family man who is boastfully proud of providing for his wife Connie and their two kids, even if he cheats on her and can be a little gruff with the kids. Denny also has no problem beating the crap out of the thugs he deals with on the streets. Joey and Denny are partners at work, and have been best friends since kindergarten. Even as kids, Denny was the brute to Joe's fall guy, as Denny repeatedly beat Joey up, just so they both knew where each of them stood. Their statements about the other's flaws all begin more or less "I mean, he's my best friend, and I love the guy, but ..."
Now, Denny has assumed the task of keeping Joey off the booze by frequently inviting him for supper with his family, events that often include a set-up with a woman. Denny figures if Joey sees the good life that is possible he will muster the strength to turn away from the bottle. However, the newest set-up proves to be a disaster. Denny ends up driving the distraught woman, Rhonda, home, leaving Joey alone with Connie. Denny follows Rhonda into her rat-trap apartment where things get out of hand quickly. More trouble awaits Denny when he meets Rhonda's pimp Walter, who is waiting outside. Back home, there is a certain something between Connie and Joey, though nothing will happen. She's his best friend's wife, right? It doesn't take too sharp a detective to figure out what lies ahead and how it will tear the fabric of Denny and Joey's friendship. The growing wedge between them leads to a serious misstep on a domestic call, with tragic results that put both cops in jeopardy.
Even if it is a bit predictable, A Steady Rain comes across with a driving force. In large part this stems from the way Huff has his characters present their stories. There are dialogue scenes between Joey and Denny when they are in the same space, but framing these scenes, each of them tells his side of the story, the things the other doesn't know, or doesn't feel, or doesn't understandtold as if they are giving their own statement to the court and we, the audience, are the jury who will judge the level of their guilt. Huff effectively writes in the dialect of born-and-bred Chicagoans, adding to the grit and authenticity of the characters' voices, with credit to Keely Wolter's hand as dialect coach.
The steady rain that gives the play its title is a constant presence, unceasing summer moisture that falls upon Joey and Denny gently but eventually penetrates their skin, as the consequences of their past and present actions soak into their beings gradually, but indelibly. Ellen Fester directs the piece with seamless, rising energy, making the dramatic knot feel tighter with every new wrinkle in the plot. A Steady Rain was originally performed in 95 minutes, without intermission. The Gremlin production has an intermission (though the playing time is still 95 minutes), which breaks the steady rise in tension a bit, but the suspense resumes easily after the break.
Peter Christian Hansen is Gremlin's Artistic Director and has a keen sense for matching plays to his acting talents. He is excellent as Joey, appreciative of all Denny has done for him, even as he realizes with growing unease both the flaws in his lifelong friend and his own impossible feelings for his friend's wife. Dustin Bronson is superb as Denny, a man who is convinced of his own goodness in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. Bronson's depiction of Denny's oblivious slide from a protector to a menace is the force that powers the play forward.
Katherine Horowitz, assisted by Rosie Hartunian Alumbaugh, has designed fantastic sound for this production, with the sounds of gunfire, vehicles, and the constant rain that falls on everyone, bringing gripping reality to the narrative. Carl Schoenborn's lighting design further adds to a story that, like its characters, takes place in varying degrees of darkness.
A Steady Rain is Gremlin's first show since launching their new performance home last June with a delightful production of the romp Don't Dress for Dinner. Meanwhile, their theater has been used often by other companies in need of a stage, such as Chameleon Theater Circle and Frank Theater, and has quickly become a valued resource among the Twin Cities theater community. Nonetheless, with a track record of high caliber productions of well-wrought plays, we look forward to Gremlin staging its own full season. Meanwhile, you are well advised to see their work for yourself by getting tickets for their outstanding production of A Steady Rain.
A Steady Rain continues through February 3, 2018, at Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Tickets: General admission - $28.00, seniors and Fringe button holders - $25.00, under 30, pay half your age for any performance. For tickets and information go to gremlintheatre. or call 1-888-71-TICKETS.
Playwright: Keith Huff: Director: Ellen Fenster; Technical Director, Set and Lighting Design: Carl Schoenborn; Sound Design: Katherine Horowitz; Assistant Sound Design: Rose Hartunian Alumbaugh; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Prop Design and Stage Manager: Sarah Bauer; Producer: Peter Christian Hansen
Cast: Dustin Bronson (Denny), Peter Christian Hansen (Joey)