A STEADY RAIN (Walnut St): An intense and engrossing cop show

Marc D. Donovan and Keith J. Conallen in A STEADY RAIN in Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3. Photo by Mark Garvin

Marc D. Donovan and Keith J. Conallen in A STEADY RAIN in Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3. Photo by Mark Garvin

If you’re a fan of TV police procedurals—“Law and Order” is the mother ship—this is the play for you. A STEADY RAIN, by Keith Huff, has just opened at the Independence Studio at the Walnut Street Theatre, and gives us an intense and engrossing story about two cops in the dangerous, dark streets of Chicago.

They’re not just dark, they’re wet. The endless rain is one of the many ongoing irritants in the stress-filled lives of these two police officers (I wish Christopher Colucci’s vivid sound design had worked on our nerves a bit more—they talk about rain, but we don’t hear it.)

Joey (Keith J. Conallen) and Denny (Marc D. Donovan) have had each other’s backs, as the phrase inevitably goes, and been fighting not only for but with each other, since they were in kindergarten. Joey is an unmarried, modest man with an innate sense of decency; a reformed drunk. Denny is married to Connie, with two little boys; he is a boaster, an alpha male, willing to do anything, including bending the law, to protect his family.

They are resentful beat cops, turned down three times for promotion, sent to “Racial Relations” seminars, wishing they were detectives, although they have plenty of contempt for the dicks who don’t know the streets and the people, scornful of those who are “trying to leech the testosterone out of the law.” The plot of A STEADY RAIN is an investigation into the point-blank shooting of a suspect.

It’s a complicated story, filled with car chases and unseen characters we get to know from hearing about them: prostitutes, pimps, a Vietnamese boy, a blond surfer, gangbangers and scary children, various denizens of a blighted neighborhood they call “Deviant Corners.” We also get to know what unconsciously moves them: the Madonna figures of their lives, whether it is Connie, when Joey sees the moonlight fall across her face as she holds her sleeping baby, or Rhonda, the hooker, willing to have sex with Denny while the breast-feeding the infant she keeps in a drawer.

We get to know them because the play is, following a current trend in theater, narrated; it’s like having a novel read to us by its characters. This technique could, to borrow the phrase, leech the testosterone out of the drama, but in the hands of these two very skilled and compelling actors, it doesn’t. The director, Fran Prisco, cleverly shifts them from one side of the stage to another as this deadly tennis match, under Thom Weaver’s interrogation lighting, shifts from man to man, from guilt to blame, from terror to anger.

Keith Huff’s play lets us see how blue lives are distorted by seeing so much misery and cruelty, but it also allows us to enter into the complex judgments against them, despising their deeds, but seeing what it is to “look into the eyes of a demon” every day and tell good from evil “in a blink.”

[Independence Studio on 3 at Walnut Street Theatre, 9th & Walnut streets] February 20-March 25, 2018; walnutstreettheatre.org

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.