A Steady Rain @ Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York

cast list
Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman

directed by
John Crowley
Representing neither a drizzle nor a storm of much inherent consequence, Keith Huff’s new Broadway two-hander, A Steady Rain lives entirely up to its name; it’s steady.

When casting movie actors in a play on Broadway, the results are almost always surprising. The mystery, typically, is whether feelings of delight or embarrassment will sink over the faces of eager fans inevitably making pilgrimages to the theatre to see their favorite stars in the flesh.

Thankfully, concerned parties can slough off fears of cringeworthy performances from Tony Award-winner Hugh Jackman (last on Broadway as gay singer-songwriter Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz) and Daniel Craig, a veteran of many stage productions in England.
In this new American play, both ultimately impress as two workaday Chicago cops struggling to get by both on the streets of their beats and in their home lives. The strength of the play is the writer’s ability instantaneously to set its two characters as one another’s foils. From the get-go, the two officers, Denny and Joey, seem inextricably linked but bound for catastrophe.

Denny (Hugh Jackman) is a family man with an excitable temper and a penchant for trouble. He’s got a bit of a racist streak, which he fears has been holding him back from promotions. To top it all off, he manages his beat by taking a cut of prostitutes’ wages in exchange for keeping the pimps off their backs, a service that he imagines benefits all parties involved.

Unfortunately, Denny comes to realize matters aren’t so cut-and-dry. In setting Joey (Daniel Craig), a single guy, up with one of the more domestically-minded prostitutes on his beat, he ends up sparking an elaborate downward spiral, which, after a run-in with a rough-and-tumble pimp and the failed rescue of a young Asian man from a cannibalistic killer, ultimately spells Denny’s demise.

Despite a relatively paint-by-numbers script from Keith Huff (by some stroke of luck, the play has already been optioned for a film adaptation), the two spot-on performances here raise the piece above mediocrity. Largely left to speak in overlapping monologues, Joey and Denny only interact at crucial, well-chosen moments, but still the cops only occasionally emerge from two dimensions.

Missing from the equation, and representing the play’s central flaw, is any real impetus for these characters to speak. Why, we wonder, are these two men telling their stories? Are they being cross-examined? Even this explanation seems unlikely given the play’s final unnecessary plot twist.

There are enough twists and turns along the way to keep an audience hooked. Audible gasps sweep across the audience at pivotal moments, signaling that playwright Huff is at least fulfilling his duty to engage the audience. But without a central drive behind these characters’ stories, the play seems little more than a well-woven cop yarn, lacking the ingredients of something with more bite behind its bark.

Smart, subtle scenic design by Scott Pask leaves the two men, for most of the play’s duration, beneath two suspended overhead lamps, sitting in rigid chairs. However, as their stories expand in scope, encompassing details from other locales, a row of terraced houses and, eventually, a seemingly backless forest set, emerge in the shadows, lurking ominously, adding a sense of foreboding to the proceedings.

What most audiences will walk away with is the sense that they’ve seen two excellent performers in a play that’s little more than average. Working with a serviceable script, Hugh Jackman is hot-blooded and irascible as Denny, his movements jerky and impulsive when played against Daniel Craig’s quieter, more reserved Joey. Theirs are performances not to be missed, even despite the less-than-stellar vehicle they’ve been cast in. That they can make it run regardless is a testament to their acting chops.

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