Reviewed by George Basler
A Steady Rain could be the biggest horror show that you’ll see all summer, but monsters, ghouls or zombies are nowhere in sight.
Instead the characters are two flawed, and floundering, Chicago policemen who battle their own demons in an urban dystopia filled with pimps, prostitutes, dark alleys and corruption.
Keith Huff’s emotionally raw and morally complex play opened this past weekend (May 31-June 2) at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott and will run through June 16.
The work was a success on Broadway in 2009 as a star vehicle for Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. It’s easy to see why. The play offers two meaty roles for actors and an emotionally taut, if at times overly dense, script.
While the Cider Mill production, presented by the Fab Arts Company, lacks the star power of the Broadway production, it provides intensity and grit in abundance as well as charismatic performances by Adam Holley and Jake Wentlent as the two cops whose failings lead them into very dark places more scary than any imaginary monsters.
A Steady Rain has all the standard elements of a noir cop story. Denny, played by Holley, is a loose cannon seething with anger, prejudices and resentments about “people who leach the testosterone out of the law.”
Joey, played by Wentlent, is a brooding unmarried Irish American who is hitting the bottle hard to fill in the gaps in his solitary life. The two men have been lifelong friends and are now partners who share a squad car.
The action centers on Denny’s quest for revenge after his home is shot up by a criminal with whom he has a blood feud. The quest, fueled by blind rage, leads the partners to make a series of disastrous mistakes with devastating consequences.
One of the play’s strengths is the unconventional way in which Huff tells the story. The plot unfolds in a series of overlapping monologues, interspersed with moments of dialogue between Denny and Joey, who are the only two characters in the play. While the approach is disjointed and confusing at first, it steadily comes together and builds in emotional power as the play progresses.
Huff also supplies a series of truly shocking plot twists. In fact, he can be criticized for squeezing too many twists into one play. Undeniably, though, they provide an emotional roller coaster ride for the audience.
Jessica Cadden Osborne has done a skillful job directing the Fab Arts Company effort, no easy task considering the play is basically just two men talking. The characters’ monologues move seamlessly from one to another, and the action never becomes static.
What holds your interest, though, is not the plot so much as the complexity of the two characters who never lose your sympathy despite their deep-seated flaws. Holley and Wentlent bring them to life with powerful performances.
As Denny, Holley shows a man so tightly wound and impulsive that he ends up hurting those he loves and destroying himself. The performance requires great physical force, and Holley delivers. Especially compelling is his slide toward a mental breakdown late in the play as he shadowboxes across the stage, seeming to fight demons he can’t control.
Wentlent has the less showy role as the withdrawn Joey. While Holley is all action, Wentlent skillfully shows his character’s conflicted feelings through a series of subtle facial gestures and body movements. It’s a finely nuanced performance.
Muted lighting, credited to lighting designer Rich Vollmer, effectively highlights the noir atmosphere and moral murkiness of the play. One distracting element, though, is multimedia components projected onto the scenery. They add nothing to the play.
That quibble aside, the Fab Arts production is a showcase for some truly fine acting. The play is not for the squeamish. The language is graphic, and the plot elements merit an “adults only” label. But it’s a compelling ride that probes the nature of male friendship and the hazy line between loyalty and betrayal.
IF YOU GO: A Steady Rain will be performed through June 16 at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave, Endicott. Performances are 7:30 p.m. June 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15 and 3 p.m. June 9 and 16. Tickets are $20 to $25. For more information, visit fabartsco.com or cidermillstage.com