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Most renown for its sold-out 100-performance run on Broadway in 2009 with the outsized marquee power of stars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, A Steady Rain finds perhaps a more congenial home in the basic-black intimacy of the Odyssey under the guidance of Chicago’s Steppenwolf co-founder Jeff Perry (who plays White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene on Scandal).
Essentially a duologue in which two Chicago cops alternately address a board of inquiry, the audience and one another, this homely yet substantial exercise in large themes of existential uncertainty and inevitable loneliness benefits from downscaled expectations and an elemental presentation: two game and capable actors sporting idiomatic accents, accompanied only by chairs and suggestive projections and sounds effects of the titular downpour.
Playwright Keith Huff is a deep-rooted Chicagoan (is there any other kind?) who has had considerable success here as a writer-producer for Mad Men and House of Cards, but also with two impressively original plays mounted at the Road Theater in North Hollywood: Pursued by Happiness and The Bird and Mr. Banks (starring Sam Anderson), both of which were far more ambitious and innovative than the rather-conventional-in-outline A Steady Rain.
Broadly, the central relationship mirrors the seminal male pair of Mean Streets, with one character impelled out of control while another becomes morally compromised by ambiguous loyalties to friendship, duty, a higher code and common sense.
While Denny (Sal Viscuso), the more dominant of the partners, may ostensibly be the rock on which his partner and his family rely, in fact he is fatally unstable because his perception of the world can entertain no “logic” beyond his narrow and destructive view of prerogative and authority (although his ethical corruption evokes the precise hair-splitting of the peculiarly Chicago tradition of “honest graft”). Joey (Thomas Vincent Kelly), a struggling recovering alcoholic, is more open to the changes in attitudes as their world evolves, however fitfully and slowly, and ultimately the more stable as Denny’s downward spiral falls inexorably into irretrievable chaos and self-destruction.
Huff operates here as a steady artificer, accumulating narrative event and telling details almost entirely through language. Despite the vivid physicality of both actors and supple atmospherics of the production, the play is so verbal that it could survive effectively as a work exclusively for the ear. Despite the relative familiarity of the materials, Huff skillfully accumulates palpable tension and a rather penetrating parsing of how character and its blind values inevitably lead to catastrophic decisions and rash acts, to betrayal or ruination.
Nevertheless, it is best not to oversell the qualities or virtues of A Steady Rain, which partakes of television territory with a moral subtlety that eschews moralizing, and though its particular darkness can teeter on the generic, it makes a walloping impact within its own carefully delimited terms.
Venue: The Odyssey Theatre, West Los Angeles (runs through Apr. 20)
Cast: Thomas Vincent Kelly, Sal Viscuso
Director: Jeff Perry
Playwright: Keith Huff
Set designer: Adam Flemming
Lighting designer: Michael Gend
Sound designer: John Zalewski
Costume designer: Rachel Clinkscales
Producer: Beth Hogan
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