With the distinctively unique smell of dry ice clogging my nostrils I shuffled down the isle of seats in the gloomy half-light of the Arcola theatre. Musing away the minutes before the show started, I dwelt on previous theatre experiences; dry ice always puts me in mind of the school productions where our drama teacher’s favourite type of play always seemed to be “foggy”. Then the play began, and I couldn’t have been moved swiftly and more unceremoniously from the nostalgic realms of amateur dramatics…
Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain is a gritty, dark and compelling tale of two cops with a highly nuanced almost brotherly relationship that put me in mind of Micky and Eddie in Blood Brothers.
The lights come up on a slightly slanted stage with Vincent Regan and David Schaal as Joey and Denny sat at either side of the table. In thick rarely faltering Chicago accents the characters open by painting a picture of their dysfunctional, co-reliant relationship which appears grounded on the premise that each believes he is saving the other from himself.
As the story progresses the characters dip in and out of retrospective narrative, direct address to the audience and real time interaction with each other. Hoff’s artfully crafted narrative moves from the tragic, to the funny, to the violent and back in seconds, all propelled by the constant talking of Denny and Joey.
The fast paced story moves from scenario to scenario, weaving different lives together in a picture of corrupted authority and questionable morality. As the work life and home life of hot-headed Denny collide in one life-changing incident, the audience become quickly aware that we are following Denny in a spiral of revenge, obsession and self-destruction. All the while Joey grapples with conflicting loyalties and his apparent inability to prevent Denny from continuing toward the inevitable climax of the story.
The loud whisper of the woman behind me– “this is ABSORBING!” – does not do justice to the completeness in which I was sucked into the narrative unfolding on stage.
Having previous known little about Huff’s writing (I’ve never seen House of Cards, if you’re wondering) and previously knowing little more than the title, from which I sophisticatedly reflected “constant rain, eh? I can relate”, it’s fair to say I was unprepared for the two hours that followed. Whilst touches like projected images, fake blood and rain generated from an overhead shower-like device were clever, the value of this show for me lies in the honesty of Regan and Schaal’s acting which does full justice to Hoff’s incredible script.
Get yourself to the Arcola before this one moves on.