Photo from A Steady Rain. Playwright: Keith Huff. At: Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago. Phone: 312-633-0630; $22-$28. Runs through: Oct. 28.
Combine the profound, terrifying sorrow that defines the bloodiest of Greek tragedies and the contemporary urgency of the latest Chicago police brutality scandal and you've got some idea of the emotionally eviscerating potency of Keith Huff's A Steady Rain. Told in 90 minutes by two characters on a stage that's bare but for a table and two chairs, the stark power of Huff's drama is all-consuming, a syringe of Mexican Mud with a China White chaser shot straight to the heart.
Directed by the invaluable Russ Tutterow, this tale of two cops unfolds in raw, realistic monologues by lifelong best friends and career patrol grunts Joey ( Peter DeFaria ) and Denny ( Randy Steinmeyer ) . DeFaria and Steinmeyer are simply extraordinary. Together, they create a deceptive vortex; you don't know how completely you've been caught up in Denny and Joey's violent and absurd universe until its full fury is about to be unleashed. Rain begins as a laugh-out-loud comedy, a buddy story of macho knuckleheads. But as it progresses, Rain's intensity escalates. In the end, wailing sirens and flashing red lights signify a world awash in both emotional and physical carnage.
As police officers, Joey and Denny are the kind of flat-footed plodders who give rise to stereotypes and public relations nightmares for the city. Denny is casually, indelibly racist and sexist, tossing around the 'n' and 'c' words as part of his everyday vernacular. He's honestly perplexed when others take offense and he's ordered to enroll in 'sensitivity training.'
He's also dangerously angry, toxic with contempt that's every bit as lethal as the leg injury he lets fester, untreated. Joey is Denny's best pal and favorite punching bag, a sad-eyed drunk who is passively suicidal, downing everything this side of Sterno in an attempt to off himself without actually having to make that proactive decision to pull the trigger.
In short, these guys are prototypical assholes—sexist, racist, corrupt and small-minded. Remarkably, they are also intensely sympathetic. You can't wholly despise them because Huff so completely and meticulously shows—in all its ugly, brutal detail—the world that molded them. Denny and Joey are two profoundly flawed and exhausted men flailing neck-deep in the endless, daily muck of murder, rape and addiction. Each instinctually knows he is on the verge losing all control, of free-falling through the cracks of society and sanity and into a chasm where everything—home, health, purpose—is forever lost.
With haunting attention to detail, A Steady Rain creates a haunting, instantly recognizable Chicago. From a rain-slicked overpass above the Dan Ryan to the wild edges of a Cook County forest preserve to the dire utility of a transient hotel room, the city becomes a looming, omnipresent character. Safety in this city is an illusion, even for—especially for—those who swear to serve and protect.