Actors Theatre returned last week from a self-imposed sabbatical with a reminder of why we might have missed them if they'd gone altogether. Keith Huff's stagey police drama, A Steady Rain, is the sort of tightly wound, finely crafted morals tale that this troupe has long done so well.
Rain, a hit in Chicago in 2007, became a Broadway winner starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig two years later. Its plot twists, though unsurprising, keep the story chugging along, and Huff, a television and film writer, piles his narrative with descriptive violence, treating us to car chases, stabbings, and endless gunplay, all in the name of a larger moral about flawed humanity.
Best friends since boyhood, Chicago cops Joey and Denny are on the skids. Denny thinks of policing as vigilante work and isn't above taking a cut from the hookers on his beat; Joey is just decent enough to know that covering up his partner's bad behavior is wrong. He's lately been drinking too much, and when a major screw-up lands him and Denny on suspension, their already messed-up lives begin to really unravel.
Directed by Anthony Runfola with a feel for both its black humor and its overstated rage, the play is no plea for compassion; it's a dark peek into the psyches of a couple of career cops dying to tell us their latest misadventures. The production is full of painterly images posed thoughtfully on Jeff Thomson's spare set, vividly lighted by Paul A Black, and brought to life by a couple of truly solid performances.
Christopher Haines is the play's trembling, emotional heart, and his deeply textured voice and smooth, controlled delivery belie Joey's darkening spirit. Joseph Kremer's Denny has an easy, playful manner at the start, and as discord develops between him and his partner, he allows a bitter sarcasm to overtake his storytelling. Haines and Kremer have both mastered the subtleties of Midwestern douchebag accents, telegraphing a doltish swagger with perfectly twangy, rounded vowels.
Without these shaded performances, A Steady Rain might be an also-ran. Some of Huff's setups are too symmetrical and preplanned and, even at its most gripping, the play's a smartly paced potboiler. But its climax shoehorns all the elements of a familiar story into a moving scene that calls on its actors, whose performances you don't want to miss.