IOWA CITY — “A Steady Rain” is theater at its most powerful. No fancy scenery, no bells and whistles. Just two chairs, two brilliant actors, deft direction and a script that takes your breath away.
A rapt audience gasped, squirmed and exploded with applause March 30 at Riverside Theatre. Many stayed to listen and talk with the director and playwright for nearly 50 minutes following the production. The show plays through April 15, 2012.
Gritty, raw and honest, it’s a cop drama that rises above all but the very best moments of “NYPD Blue” or “Law and Order: CI.” We’ve seen good cop-bad cop scenarios before, but not with this kind of brutality bred from the inner turmoil both beat cops have faced since their rough and tumble playground days.
Denny and Joey have been friends since childhood. Denny looks bigger, badder, cruder and more loutish. He’s picked on Joey since kindergarten, but as partners on the Chicago police force, he’s always had Joey’s back. Joey seems smarter, more thoughtful, levelheaded and polished. But that’s just on the outside.
They’re locked in a battle within themselves, each other and on the job. Because of their racist locker room banter, they’ve been chastised, ostracized and passed over for promotion three times. When trouble looms, they only have each other. No one else has their backs.
This is a tour de force for Jim Van Valen, head of acting at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, as Denny and Martin Andrews from Working Group Theatre in Iowa City as Joey. Each finds exactly the right tone to convey every emotional twist and turn, creating an ever-evolving cat-and-mouse game of audience allegiance.
Keith Huff of Chicago and Los Angeles, a graduate of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, has given them harrowing words, choreographed with skill and artistry by director Joseph Price of Buffalo, NY.
The cadence of the dialogue propels the action in a brutal pas de deux as a single incident sets their lives on a hideous downward spiral. Of course, that single incident is only the accelerant for their already tenuous holds on might and honor.
Joey is a recovering alcoholic, getting a hand up from Denny, his beautiful wife and two doting young sons. Denny’s heart of gold and earnest desire to do whatever it takes to protect and provide for his family are his undoing. The way their roles meet, cross, entwine and unravel is nothing short of genius.
“A Steady Rain” is a captivating look at what happens when the battle on the streets moves inside their heads, their hearts and their homes.
The language is coarse at times, but the swearing is never gratuitous. The dialogue conveys so much love and pain that it feels like a privilege to witness it in Riverside’s intimate venue. The action plays out over 90 minutes with no intermission, but director Price gives the audience moments to breathe between scenes, as the bang of chairs and raw orchestral arrangements of Beatles classics both stop and propel the action.
Do not miss this show. It played on Broadway in 2009 with Hugh Jackman as Denny and Daniel Craig as Joey. It’s been produced all over the world, from Hungary to Buenos Aires. Huff is working on the screenplay.
This is your chance to see its visceral energy in a way only live theater can do, and in the way Riverside Theatre always does so well.
- What: “A Steady Rain”
- Where: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
- When: Through April 15, 2012; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, April 1 and 15 (no show on Easter)
- Tickets: $15 to $28, Riverside Theatre Box Office, (319) 338-7672 or riversidetheatre.org
- Information: riversidetheatre.org