Saucy Cops and Bud Lite: Whatever Happened to Family Dinners?
Think fisticuffs instead of bare-knuckle boxing. It’s the classical term that suggests the genre of "A Steady Rain": male action tale laced with tragedy and cast with heavyweights, Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.
Jackman (Denny) takes the first round, going on and on about his family and his best friend Joey, that’s Craig. The two cops have a bond that’s inextricable. Take Faust and Mephistopheles, Professor Xavier’s X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants or 007 and Big Ben. No marriage is perfect, but these two cops have been best friends since "kinnygarten".
But forget about the story. This is about two of the most charismatic movie stars of the day. My favorite is Daniel Craig. His James Bond has a gritty understated quality that makes his superhuman feats feel awesomely magnetic. But it’s the roughness that he brings to Tuvia Bielski, the Nazi fighter who led hundreds of Jews to safety in the Belarussian forests (the true story-based "Defiance") that make him one of the great film heroes of the moment.
Sitting on the stage Craig looks too cleaned up, wearing a brown suit and shoes that shimmer from the hard shine. But it’s Jackman whose punches really sting. Here the actor delivers more testosterone without X-men’s hairy cheeks and ejaculating finger blades. He looks at ease, centered and completely routed on the stage while Craig appears uncharacteristically tentative. His Joey is the weaker of the two, the one Denny protected from the bullies in school and who he still takes home every night for family dinners, rescuing him from his retreat into alcoholism.
But Joey’s weakness could easily be taken for bad acting as when Craig, jumping into self-defense bobs his head and points his finger like a gun. True, this is Craig’s Broadway debut, but these hackneyed expressions create a wall behind which the character remains hidden.
Eventually, as the tale builds, there is a transformation between the two buddies that is mirrored in the actors’ performances, with Craig shifting into prizefighter mode. Like Muhammad Ali, he "floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee".
In the mythical sense, "A Steady Rain", directed by John Crowley, is about the transformation of one man into another man’s skin. As in Genet’s "The Maids" or Goethe’s "Faust", it involves a kind of soul swapping that’s motivated by one man’s need to possess the riches he sees in the life of another. Therein lies the intrigue in Keith Huff’s drama which in most other respects is a lot like "Law and Order", offering predictable portions of petty crime, racism, sex and murder. Only here the bullets that shoot through the windowpane of a middle class home set off the characters’ tragic reversal.
And Huff brings a poetic quality to the writing and a naturalistic sense of dialogue that capture these two tough cops from the southside of Chicago. The action is carried solely by narration. The actors talk directly to the audience which makes it even more remarkable that Craig, the Brit, and Jackman, the Australian, are so believable in affecting the vernacular. In fact, the acting is so refined that one would love to see the play without such auspicious screen idols, the way it was cast in the original Chicago production. It might have been more suspenseful.
While most of the 90 minutes passes without a stitch of scenery save two chairs in which the actors are often seated, a few of the dramatic descriptions are highlighted by scenic elements, most memorably, a series of dark and frightening looking tenements. The ghostly look of those towering facades (designed by Scott Pask) evokes evil reminiscent of an X-Men movie. But this is not the world of mutantkind. It’s reality, the kind most seen on reality shows.
What happens in "Rain" takes place solely in the realm of mortals whose fulfilled fantasies leave us even more unsettled.
By Isa Goldberg
A Steady Rain
236 West 45 Street (Between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
212 239 – 6200
90 Minutes No Intermission
Wednesday 2:00 8:00
Saturday 2:00 8:00