Denny (Sal Viscuso) and Joey (Thomas Vincent Kelly), best friends since Bible school, are rough and tumble Chicago cops of the old school. They see the world around them in terms of racial epitaphs, where the liberals are trying to “leech the testosterone out of the law”. They blame their failure to make detective grade on their precinct captain, and his favoritism for those of a darker complexion.

In their world violence is as natural as breath.

Their sanctuary from the mongrel hordes of the inner city is Denny’s suburban home where among Denny’s two young kids and his wife Connie, they struggle to wrap themselves in the tattered remnants of their humanity, aided by ever increasing amounts of alcohol.

There Denny, the alpha of the pair, holds court in his castle partially paid for by the kickbacks and shakedown money he squeezes out of the whores and bars on their beat. But following their ninth pass over for promotion, Joey resolves to demonstrate for the captain his willingness to change and signs up for racial sensitivity training. It’s to teach you tolerance, Joey explains to Denny who only snorts, “They should start tolerating my intolerance.”

Joey and Denny’s world is a fusion of their illusions, the illusion of preference for other races, that shakedowns are neighborhood support funds for them, that they weren’t above the law, but were the law.

As Joey pulls back, a rift opens in that fortress wall enclosing them. Denny seeks to reinforce it by remolding Joey in his image: The family man, who has to protect what’s his. Joeys starts being invited every night to dinner with Denny and Connie. And every night there at the table sits a woman as Joey’s “blind date.”

Joey tells Denny to knock it off, that he isn’t interested. But Denny is confident that his way is the way to pull Joey back into the fold. The situation worsens when one evening Joey recognizes his “blind date” as a hooker who Denny has shaken down.

From this unfolds the events that will crush the illusions and nearly the men.

A Steady Rain” by Keith Huff opened on Broadway in 2009 starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig and proved a critical and financial success. This success is attributed not so much to the play’s story which covers very familiar ground, but to the very unique repackaging Mr. Huff has given it.

Mr. Huff has taken and reversed the techniques of Brecht’s Epic Theatre. In particular, the concept of “verfremdungseffekt”, which has various translations, among them “estrangement effect”. The characters are estranged from one another on stage by this device, but through their alienation the audience is brought into the confidence of both. They are made accomplices to their crimes and partners to their sins. Their pain is drawn in too close, their mistakes we recognize as ours, and their anguish we hear in our own gasps.

Mr. Huff has written for two of television’s high watermarks, “Mad Men” and “House of Cards”. This is indicative that he not only possesses talent, but intelligence. His refashioning of the old tale of conflicted and crooked cops into a thoroughly watchable and tenaciously gripping play proves it.

Kelly as the younger Joey and Viscuso as Denny each display that rare set of skills and talent to re-wire the established dynamics of the theatre this piece requires. That re-wiring is the strength of the play, but it was their sweat that achieved it.

In his stripped down and muscular staging, director Jeff Perry (a co-founder of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre) shackles the audience to the emotional tension existing between the play’s two characters. On all but a bare stage he allows no means of escape, and when some effect, whether sound or lighting is applied, it only pushes the audience deeper down into the drama’s anguish.

Mr. Kelly is ably supported in structuring this intimacy between actors and audience by Michael Gend and John Zalewski, the lighting and sound designer, and by Adam Flemming who’s scenic and projection designs provides invaluable service.

With Beth Hogan producing, “A Steady Rain” stands as a prime example of what the Odyssey does best: offering L.A. theatregoers exceptional staging of works singular and unique.

 

A Steady Rain

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
(310) 477-2055 ext. 2
www.OdysseyTheatre.com

Performances: Feb. 22 – April 20
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 19 and April 2 ONLY
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 27 and April 17 ONLY
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 21, 28; April 4, 18 (dark April 11)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 22, 29; April 5, 19 (darkApril 12)
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 23, 30; April 6, 20 (no 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 23, dark April 13)

Tickets:
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays: $25
Saturdays and Sundays, except Saturday, Feb. 22: $30
Saturday, Feb. 22: $45 (includes a gala reception with the actors)
Pay-what-you-can performances: Feb. 28, March 21 (wine night), April 2