‘A Steady Rain’ at Marin Theatre Company: Disturbing but unsatisfying

(Charles Kruger)

“A Steady Rain” by Keith Huff, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Meredith McDonough. Scenic Designer: Andrew Boyce. Lighting Designer: Lucas Krech. Costume Designer: Maggie Whitaker. Sound Designer: Chris Houston.

Denny: Khris Lewi. Joey: Kevin Rolston.

(performance attended Thursday, February 7, 2012)

The west coast premiere of Chicago playwright (and Mad Men writer) Keith Huff’s Broadway success, “A Steady Rain” is certainly news. Originally produced in Chicago, it moved to Broadway in 2009 where it enjoyed a successful run and considerable critical acclaim. Richard Zoglin, esteemed entertainment editor at Time magazine, considered it one of the Top 10 plays of 2009.

All of which is to say that it is a play deserving of close attention and consideration.

Keith Huff's "A Steady Rain" receives west coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company

It tells the story of two Chicago cops who are under investigation after making a spectacularly poor judgment call and releasing an hysterical naked child found in an alley to the care of a man who claims to be his uncle. The man convinces them that the child, a Vietnamese boy who speaks no English, is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and they believe him. Later, it turns out that the man was a kidnapper and mass murderer who killed the boy and consumed some of his body parts.

We learn of the story from the two cops who are apparently undergoing some sort of interrogation. The two partners speak directly to the audience, each detailing the story of their shared careers. This makes for an unusual format with an almost complete absence of set, only two actors, and few actual scenes, only descriptions.

Mr. Huff is a competent storyteller and the details he provides of the two lives keep us interested for the entire 90 minutes. The incidents described are engaging and disturbing and the descriptions are vivid.

The play fails, however, to deeply address the moral ambiguities of the various situations. It feels as though Mr. Huff is satisfied to keep us awake and doesn’t really care about stimulating our intellects and emotions. Without such deeper exploration, the material seems exploitative, simply violent and shocking for its own sake, a kind of police porno.

Actors Khris Lewin (as Denny) and Kevin Rolston (as Joey) are charismatic and capable of holding our interest, but do not succeed in creating fully realized characters. Although they describe many situations involving many different people and places, their tone seems relentlessly unchanging and, for the most part, their emotional arc is distressingly narrow. For example, although they each talk at length about Denny’s wife Connie (with whom they are both in love) and his two young children, neither of them show much change or specificity in emotional tone. There is little emotional difference between a description of a toddler’s hospitalization after being shot by a bullet, a car chase, or an encounter with a pimp. This sameness gets dreary.

Things get better in the latter part of the evening, as Denny slips further and further into drug and alcohol addiction and Joey realizes the depth of his love for Denny’s wife and family.

In spite of some well-realized moments, this production overall fails to realize the potential of the play, and simply seems to wallow in ugliness for its own sake.

A Steady Rain continues through February 26. For further information, click here.

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