Smile Politely

A Steady Rain leaves awe in its stead

A Steady Rain, the latest dramatic offering from Urbana’s Station Theatre, is gripping. That’s the word. I know it gets bandied about a lot, time and again, but to tell you how the storytelling brings the viewer in and sustains engagement, all I can say is that it white-knuckles your ears, swinging your head to the stage and going, “Look.” Gripping.

Keith Huff’s relatively new play initially garnered mass attention due to the concentrated star-power of last year’s Broadway run. The two-man cast was staffed exclusively by Hollywood heavyweights Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. Search the title on Youtube now, and mostly what pops up is just clips of thronging fans outside the “stage door” of New York’s Schoenfeld Theatre.

And by the way, when I say two-man cast, I mean it. There’s no supporting cast in the show. This is just two dudes talking. Hell, the show didn’t even have a set. Well, of course it had a set, but you know what I mean.

This legitimate theatre “star vehicle” premise left at least one Broadway critic skeptical and less than enthused.  He’s obviously got a Broadway bias, because Chicago gave the show quite a few Jefferson Award nods with nobody actors.

Thank God I was exposed to the work by Station, where I don’t have to haughtily condescend my fellow theatergoers, who probably were not in attendance to ogle actors Mathew Green (Denny) and Mike Prosise (Joey). Even though they were pretty dreamy together in Picasso.

The narrative, anchored by alternating and conflicting interrogation-room monologues, weaves a tight, suspense-filled drama. A drama so gripping that I suggest you don’t scour the Internet looking for a synopsis, lest the spoilers suck the impact dry. The writing is so gorgeous, innovative, and fluid, utilizing techniques I’ve seldom seen before, that the script ably overcomes any preconceived notions about the cops/friends-flirting-with-the-wrong-side-of-the-law-and-each-others’-wives scenario that you may bring to the performance. Aided by smooth lighting transitions, elegant staging, and sparsely, but well-chosen, sound design, and carried by actors who inhabit their personae, we float along in the story, never at one moment seeing the whole thing, but captivated as each new detail emerges.

The only criticism I can offer on the literary end of things is that Huff can get a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism. It’s obvious he could’ve made a helluva novel out of the words he chooses. But when he opted to tell this story as a play, in this manner, with the recitation of story rather than the presentation of events, he needed to remind the audience every once in a while, verbally, about what his ongoing motifs were. And occasionally he misses the mark, even up to the title.

The amount of time these characters are forced to talk about the pervasive rain, rather than letting the audience just continue to experience the white noise as it emerges and continues in the space of the theatre, is a bit basic and a bit much. A bit much of the basic stuff. These types of details are much better developed by the bodies of capable actors, for instance Green’s leg, growing stiffer and worse as each second passes.

Though at other times, what could otherwise be dropped off as cheesy constructions, like the continuing presence of “demon eyes,” are carried so marvelously by the language, action, and acting, that A Steady Rain reinvests what could be a cliché with the power of the pure source of the thing. We see the demon eyes emerge in Green and Prosise’s portrayals, and we get chills. We’re certain we know who the good guy is, then we’re genuinely startled and tossed for a loop. They make us re-examine who we trust, why, and to what effect.

The restraint running through most elements of this production only serves to enhance the story, and what emerges is an entertaining and thought-provoking reflection on class, race, masculinity, ethics and truth. Where’s the truth? It’s in the story.

Which story?


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