The setting for Keith Huff's play A Steady Rain is "the not-too-distant past in Chicago," but it might as well be "any number of hard-boiled cop dramas from film and TV in the past four decades." It's the kind of material screenwriters love and actors dig, too, using descriptors like "gritty" when speaking of it.
This play's intimacy is much better suited for a small staging like ICT Mainstage does in its Theatre on the Edge production, in their rehearsal space just a few blocks over from their main performing home at Irving Arts Center, rather than for a big Broadway stage like it had in 2009.
That production benefited from a cast with two A-list actors, both of whom have respectable stage résumés but are now better known as Wolverine and .007 (Jackman and Craig, of course). Its brief run sold out quickly, and that's without the promise of either of them taking off a shirt.
For the play's area premiere, with unfussy direction by Ashley H. White, actors Scott Nixon and Shane Beeson play a pair of streetwise Chicago cops, Denny and Joey, who have been through a lot together and love the same woman. Their story is told in time-jumping flashback, sometimes narrating directly to the audience and other times acting out the scenes.
There's nothing in it you wouldn't find in a cop drama on TV: betrayal, moral ambiguity, the search for a killer, tough decisions and endless loyalty that should have died a long time ago, but won't. Can't. There's so much inherent texture in the character of a street cop because of the job's good/bad nature. To protect and serve, sometimes you have to do things and make split-second decisions that most people couldn't. Wouldn't.
Huff's storytelling is easy to follow and parts of the frayed thread are gripping, but overall, there's not much originality in it. At the end, with the rain sound and imagery, you're thinking of all those movie endings with the main characters standing umbrella-less out in the pouring rain. Ah, catharsis.
Interest might hold more steadily with just a bit of cutting and without the momentum-killing intermission in this production; a 90-minute running time is not unreasonable.
Beeson, with his baby face and storytime voice, is well-suited for the role of the good cop, the one you're sure will end up with the girl and, well, not dead. Nixon has the required bluster and the tough-guy vibe and physicality, and as the story is mostly about his downward spiral, he commits and gives us a character that we all desperately want to help. Too bad about that overwhelming sense of helplessness permeating the room.
Abby Kipp's simple scenic design consists of a large table that you'd see in an interrogation room. A wall with graffiti, and a brick wall and the metal staircase already in the space are used to good effect, adding street cred.
Nothing life transforming here, but for a studio, "on the edge" production, it fits the bill. A few times in the play, you're on the edge of your seat.
◊ Here's a video preview for the production: