A Searing "Steady Rain"

By Geary Danihy

You know Denny. He’s the kid in high school who always took it just a bit too far, the kid with the gift of gab and the short fuse. He’s the guy at the party who one minute is calling you his best buddy and the next is looking to knock your block off because he’s taken offense at some imaginary slight. He’s the guy with all the angles and the five-and-dime philosophy that justifies his amorality. He’s the man who rides the whirlwind created by his own bluster, the guy who lights a match while sitting on a powder keg, the tragic figure who destroys what he loves.

In Keith Huff’s mesmerizing “A Steady Rain,” which recently opened at Hartford TheaterWorks, Denny (Aaron Roman Weiner) is a Chicago cop who works the streets with his partner and childhood friend Joey (Kyle Fabel), catching the bad guys, maybe roughing them up a bit too much in the process, and pocketing what money is to be had from hookers and drug pushers – after all, Denny’s got a family to support, and it doesn’t look like either he or Joey will make detective any time soon.

Under Tazwell Thompson’s taut, street-wise direction, Weiner and Fabel create a dark vision of a friendship balanced on a tightrope with both ends fraying. The only question is who will tumble first and how far will he fall.

Staged on a spare set by Donald Eastman that consists merely of chairs and two walls made out of flop-house blinds, and lit with concentration-camp harshness by Marcus Doshi, the two men relate the events of a time when the rain just wouldn’t let up and their lives slowly slid down a slippery slope propelled by Denny’s mania.

Weiner gives a bravura performance as a man driven by inner demons who sees the abyss he is speeding towards and yet can’t put on the breaks. Driven to protect his family after a drive-by shooting puts one of his young sons in the hospital, Denny uses the assault to justify a series of brutal or extra-legal actions that Joey is forced to participate in, each taking them one step further out onto the tightrope.

As the enabler, Fabel gives a nicely controlled performance that counterbalances Weiner’s pyrotechnics. His character has been Denny’s verbal and physical punching bag since kindergarten and yet he remains loyal, much as an abused wife remains loyal out of fear of facing life without the familiar, as harsh and debasing as the familiar might be.

As his marriage falls apart, Denny, seeking someone to blame for the drive-by shooting and the way life has treated him, focuses on a pimp he’s roughed up in the past. Things are complicated by the fact that Denny is sleeping with one of the pimp’s whores, justifying his actions by claiming he wants to help her get off the street.

The language is harsh, the street-reality brutal, and the tension Denny creates in this modern-day tragedy is visceral. You can’t help but squirm in your seat a bit as you listen to Denny building a case for his immoral actions as he draws Joey deeper and deeper into his insanity, sure that Joey will follow him because of the various “codes” Denny deftly manipulates – the code of male friendship, the code of the cop, the code of the playground. All are perverted by a man whose ego and sense of entitlement blinds him to the trail of blood and tears he leaves in his wake.

In a time when playwrights often eschew plot and merely give a nod to character development, Huff has created a tough, honest, old-fashioned play that grabs the playgoers from the opening gun shots and holds them in thrall right up to the final scenes of loss and redemption.

“A Steady Rain” runs through Sunday, May 8. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org.    


This review originally ran in the Norwalk Citizen-News.

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