Life on the mean streets of Chicago is tough for two paunchy, middle-aged cops, just trying to do their jobs.
Our news is filled almost daily about how American officers have messed up, shooting unarmed kids, beating up black motorists, and the like. Have we become inured to their imperfections?
Keith Huff’s powerful and ferociously raw play, A Steady Rain, which opened at London’s Arcola Theatre last night, puts a new spin on the familiar police procedural drama that involves partners, and lifelong pals, Denny and Joey.
This grim and gritty two-hander is mostly monologues by the men with interaction between the two kept to a minimum. Each has a story to tell, two halves of one plot, that throws in a cannibal serial killer almost as an afterthought (I guess it makes a change from collaring shoplifters and drug dealers).
What we have here, during a season of almost continual and unremitting drizzle (just like last night in London,) is a story of male-bonding that goes beyond the workplace and reaches out into the home and the men’s tangled personal lives.
They’ve grown up together in Chicago’s tough neighbourhoods, two regular, no-nonsense, blue collar guys who have each other’s backs no matter what.
They’re old school, you know the sort. Their banter is peppered with swearing and insults, and they’re intrinsically racist in that non-racist way cops have, calling everyone by some slang handle that reduces them to just another perp, witness or victim. They don’t mean nothing by it, you know?
The downside, they claim, is that their language and hard-nosed attitudes have caused them to be passed over for promotion three times in favour of pen-pushing officers picked to fill ethnic quotas.
Andrew Pearson’s fluid and pacey direction builds tension, drop by rain-soaked drop, and holds your attention throughout until a storm brings the story to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.
Huff, who wrote episodes of TV’s Mad Men & Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards, started his career in Chicago and his cops’ sharply observed dialogue captures its streets and mood well.
Hollywood hardman, Vincent Regan, more used to flexing his well honed abs in sword and sandals movie epics like 300 and Clash of the Titans, here gives a mesmerising performance as shabby, Alpha male and flawed cop Denny.
He’s walking on the edge, consumed by a furious rage. A trigger-happy, slightly corrupt, cop not averse to taking back-handers and favours from prostitutes, who loves his family but occasionally gives his wife a slap, who beats up witnesses and breaks all the rules to get a conviction.
Regan’s Denny is fierce, consumed with anger and vowing revenge, after a drive-by shooter nearly kills one of his kids.
David Schaal as Denny’s sidekick, Joey, is like a faithful golden retriever, always at his side and keeping his secrets. He’s meeker, submissive and an alcoholic who has always looked up to his partner, even when, as kids, Denny beat the crap out of him.
Joey’s lifelong relationship with his partner is stronger than any rulebook. Single and unattached he lives a lonely existence in a dreary flat, drinking too much and waiting to emerge from his friend’s dubious shadow.
A Steady Rain is a compelling and thought-provoking drama that is remarkably convincing in creating the men’s entire universe, from a car chase, to back alley interviews, to Denny’s home and that of a hooker they both know.
All of life is here – including one incident which shapes the future of the pair.
One night, while out on patrol, they find a terrified Vietnamese teen, who clings to them begging for help. Moments later a blond man appears, claiming to be the boy’s uncle, who persuades the officers to return the lad.
The uncle is apparently based on America’s infamous sex killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, and both Denny and Joey face an uncertain future when the shit hits the fan.
Regan and Schaal give blistering turns as cops walking the thin blue line. They’re characters we’ve seen endless times before on TV and in movies but Huff seems to almost have a sneaking respect for these two. Who says the good guys always have to wear white Stetsons?
Occasionally I thought I detected a bit of de Niro in Regan’s portrayal but, both being tough guys, perhaps it’s generic.
A Steady Rain plays at the Arcola Theatre until March 5.
A Steady Rain
Keith Huff’s gritty, powerfully-told cop drama, A Steady Rain, puts a new spin on a genre that’s saturated with complicated and flawed heroes.