Published: October 8, 2009
Theatre is, above anything else, storytelling. Unfortunately, the first new play of the Broadway season takes this concept too far. Keith Huff’s “A Steady Rain,” which opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Sept. 29, is literally just storytelling. Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman spend the entire evening onstage explaining the events that happen to their characters. Without the great performances of these two stars, the play would be a rather dull evening for all.
Craig and Jackman play two Chicago cops, Denny and Joey, whose experiences during one rainy and violent summer change their lives, their careers and their friendship. That’s literally all I can say about the plot without giving away the twists in store.
Nobody would go see this play based on that transparent summary, and I would not blame them. The simple premise of two or three actors telling a story is not a compelling one without a specific angle. Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” is a three-character play that works because it keeps the audience wondering which character’s recollection is the truth. In “A Steady Rain,” the two cops are telling the exact same story. Denny and Joey do bring personal flavors to their recitations and there are certain events that only one of them witnessed, but both characters are in agreement over what happened on the whole. Therefore, the only tension present in this play is that which is inherent in their story.
That leads us to the play’s other big flaw: the story does not fit the given format. Every event in the play is recited to the audience, except for scenes in which Denny and Joey act out events that happened between the two of them. The only sort of visualization the action scenes get is when one of the characters uses his body language to indicate his reactions. Such a presentation just leaves the audience wanting more, for despite being too dramatic, the story does sound like a fairly interesting one. Instead, we have endless exposition with a few moments of exemplifying. A violent cop drama is the sort of tale that works when it is seen and not described. It’s like watching “Jurassic Park” with every dinosaur scene removed. Everything the audience wants to see is nowhere to be found.
Most of whatever excitement this production has can be found in Craig’s and Jackman’s excellent performances. Both actors successfully breathe life into their otherwise unremarkable characters. Craig plays Joey, the more cautious cop, and as his side of the story unfolds, he aptly shows the conflict he feels about the rift forming between him and his friend. Jackman has the meatier role as Denny, the headstrong cop, and he is forceful as he creates a man who sinks to low depths to protect his family. Neither actor is markedly better than the other (although Craig has a more convincing Chicago accent), and their magnetic rapport makes them one of the best teams currently on Broadway.
The other notable aspect of this production is the design. Director John Crowley and scenic designer Scott Pask have devised an ingenious way to incorporate sets into this simple two-man play. Denny and Joey often mention ways a situation could have happened in order to end more positively. There are three events in particular that lead to worse circumstances later on. They are probably the moments that the characters revisit most often, for any deviance at those times would have drastically affected the rest of the story. Craig and Jackman spend most of the play in front of a black backdrop, but for these key scenes, the lights come up behind the backdrop to reveal the locations for these anecdotes. The fact that these parts of the story are important enough to be partly visualized lets the audience know right away that something big is about to happen, making them wonder what it could be. This scenic symbolism adds some creativity to an otherwise uninspired play.
If not for the stars and scenery, “A Steady Rain” would be a misfire. As it stands, Craig and Jackman turn what could have been a tedious night out into a reasonably entertaining evening. Any fans of these actors should take the opportunity to see them together and in person, even if the material they are given is not worthy of their talent.