The Alliance Theatre is presenting Keith Huff’s taut drama “A Steady Rain,” directed by Jeff Perry, running at the Hertz Stage through Oct. 11.
The playwright, director, and the two actors who comprise the cast, Thomas Vincent Kelly and Sal Viscuso, have more big-time credentials between the four of them than most large-cast shows could hope to muster.
Mr. Perry is also an actor who co-founded Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre, where he’s still an acting coach. He currently stars on ABC-TV’s hit series “Scandal.”
Playwright Huff has won many awards and is a co-writer for ABC’s “American Crime” and a co-producer for “Mad Men.” “A Steady Rain” had a 12-week sold-out run on Broadway; it starred Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman.
But the play’s the thing, as you know. “Rain” is a naturalistic, gritty, dialogue-heavy crime drama that is similar in mood to the films “Seven” or “The Departed.” But there are only two people: Chicago policemen and friends since childhood Joey (Mr. Kelly) and Denny (Mr. Viscuso). Joey is single and Denny is married with children.
“A Steady Rain” begins with a description of a drive-by shooting that shatters glass in Denny’s living room and seriously injures his small son. There are car chases, gun fights, pimps, prostitutes, and a cannibalistic serial killer. The police partners (Denny and Joey) make a terrible mistake in their handling of a Vietnamese orphan.
Bear in mind that the play alternates between two separate monologues and present moment dialogues. Without virtuoso actors, “Rain” is dead in the water (no pun intended). Fortunately, Kelly and Viscuso are the real deal, total professionals with extensive résumés. When you’re in their presence, in the intimate Hertz, you may perk up and realize, “These guys are special,” because they are.
But what a dreary world they inhabit! At one point Denny looks around and says, “Is this a civilization or what?” And almost every moment of this 90 minute show is on the same emotional high level of tension. It’s no wonder that actor Viscuso said that his role as Denny was “to go to hell and back eight times a week.” But he went on to say that “this play still challenges, provokes, and demands that we go to our darkest, ugliest places and reveal it.”
If you decide to go there, I’ll let you discover other dynamics of the plot, such as Joey’s love for Denny’s wife and how that plays out.
If you remember the Brad Pitt-Morgan Freeman movie “Seven,” you may recall that the rain was virtually unrelenting; it’s the same here. There are three screens that set and media designer Adam Dean Flemming uses very effectively and ominously. And there’s nice eerie music by Ray Leslee.
Three screens, two actors, one script—this is a no-frills production for adults. Everything is slick, the dialogue, the action, the ambience. See it if you dare—and leave the kids at home.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.