Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 22 – Oct 17, 2015
Playwright: Keith Huff
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Nick Barkla, Justin Stewart Cotta
Image by Tim Levy
We are all flawed beings. Denny and Joey are Chicago policemen who have all their imperfections put on display in Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain. There is a liberal amount of machismo in the way they live their lives, but the play is more interested in their vulnerabilities and in exposing the damage that resides behind tough exteriors. There are dramatic events and cinematic characters to be found, and even though passions run high, there is no guarantee that audiences would respond with the compassion it aims for. We see the humanity of the cops, but whether we relate to their weaknesses and forgive their misdeeds, and hence empathise with their stories, would probably depend on each individual’s own world view.
Adam Cook’s direction works hard to establish the grave pain experienced by the two men, but we never forget that their circumstances are largely self-inflicted. Nevertheless, Cook’s work is thoughtful, energetic and operatic in its sentimental expressions. He brings a grandeur not only to all the explosive emotions of the narrative, but manages to create in the space, an unceasing frenzy that elevates the two-hander to an immensely gripping thriller of a show. Design aspects of the production are superbly accomplished, with Ross Graham’s set and lights providing an atmosphere full of drama and grit. Sound by Jed Silver underscores the entire text with measured tension and outstanding sensitivity.
The centrepiece of the staging are magnificent performances by its two leads. Justin Stewart Cotta plays the fallen Denny, eloquently detailing a moral and bodily descent that is simply fascinating to watch. His aggressive approach gives the show an edge, and his tenacious ability to intimately engage his audience during his many monologues, makes his character’s destructive journey an insightful exploration into the way we can let things spiral out of control. Joey’s experience is less extreme, but Nick Barkla’s work in the role is certainly no less intense. The actor’s extraordinary emotional range is showcased at all its extremes, and the level of authenticity he injects into every moment is wonderfully mesmerising. For those of us who are unable to find satisfaction in the tale being told, the impressive craft that is put on show by these men is more than compensatory.
There is more to A Steady Rain than a buddy cop drama, but what it tries to explore is not wholly convincing. Narratives take predictable forms because our responses are calculable. Innocence and redemption hold a certain sacramental value, and dark stories need them to find resonance. If blame can be squarely attributed to its victims, whatever demise that befalls them stands every chance of leaving us cold. Here, theatrical magic is delivered on many levels, but what is actually being said is ambiguous at best.