Chicago—The Windy City, The City of Big Shoulders, Chi-town, Hog Butcher to the World. Chicago, a city famed for its murder rate, for its rough politics, for Mayor Richard Daley and his motto, “vote early—and often,” and for his infamous crack-down on anti-war activists during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Chicago is also the city of great art and architecture, the Chicago Symphony, and world-class colleges and universities. Just like America, it is a place of a confounding variety of pluses and minuses.
Keith Huff’s scintillating play, A Steady Rain, is a blistering, two-character ride into the psyches of a couple of Chicago cops, Denny (R. J. DeBard), and Joey (Andy Hoff). They are life-long friends who grew up together, joined the Chicago police together, and reached a career stalemate together. Denny dominates. He both loves and abuses his partner, Joey, and has followed that pattern since grade school. Denny is married with two kids and a mortgage, while Joey, a somewhat buttoned up guy, lives in a small apartment, and drinks. Both have reached a career plateau, having three times failed to advance to the rank of detective. They pass their tests, but their attitude toward ethnic minorities and the seeming preferences afforded by affirmative action, which they carelessly trumpet in the locker room, seems likely to keep them in a patrol car forever.
The contrast between the two, who speak with a one-hundred percent authentic, flat Chicago accent, could not be starker. Denny is an emotional motor mouth, handling Joey with rough, physical affection. Joey, taciturn and yearning, is a loner envying his partner’s home life. A frequent guest in Denny’s house, he turns awkward at dinner, rebuffing his partner’s efforts to hook him up with a girl friend. Secretly, Joey’s affections fester for the forbidden fruit of his partner’s wife, Connie. When two separate instances of critical misjudgment on the beat snowball into stupid, aggressive behavior fueled by Denny’s impulsiveness, the consequences are dire for innocent and guilty civilians alike. The blowback and a cascading series of consequences send the two cops on a trajectory to disaster.
R. J. DeBard and Andy Hoff create characters of depth and detail, of passion and heart. Their action together is one of non-stop fluidity that surges with palpable emotion. They are entirely believable, and play their roles with an astonishing intimacy.
The playwright’s script is nothing short of brilliant. The words flow in a torrent and the action, performed by two actors at the top of their game, deserve all the superlatives that can be mustered. Hackneyed as they are, the terms gripping, riveting, compelling, absorbing, are not sufficient to describe the affect on an audience. The action literally pulls the audience forward from their seats, elbows on knees.
Director John Kirby gets the full measure of passion, humor, and horror from his two stars. The studio is small, forty seats, and so the scenic design by Mike Flannery, with lighting by Donny Jackson, is of necessity spare, simple and effective, as is the sound design by Aaron Lyons. A Steady Rain is produced by Andy Hoff and Nathan Nesbitt.
Mr. Huff’s play, first produced by Chicago Dramatists in 2007 and subsequently at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago in 2008, garnered the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work. It opened in New York in 2009 with Hugh Jackman as Denny and Daniel Craig as Joey. As much as I admire the work of Mssrs. Jackman and Craig, I can’t believe that a New York audience sitting in the 1079-seat Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre on Broadway got a better show than I did at Kirby’s forty-seat venue.
A Steady Rain, which had a sold out run in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, has new life in this extension. The astonishing duo of DeBard and Hoff deserves a run of months, if not years. See this show, which runs through August 20 at the John Kirby Studio, 1510 N. Las Palmas Avenue (just north of Sunset Blvd.) in Hollywood.