Occasionally we are victims of timing. Through no fault of our own we end up having to negotiate an existence that, had we taken a little less time here or a little more time there, would have steered us down an entirely different road. Of course it works the other way; we can just as easily benefit from circumstance. But the knowledge that we are not always sitting in the driver’s seat, that events transpire which may lead to our downfall, can force us to put our hands up in despair, cry injustice to the heavens, and surrender to our seeming powerlessness.
Denny (Vincent Regan) and Joey (David Schaal) paint themselves as casualties of causality: two long-time best friends, now middle-aged, Chicago-based cops who are both constantly overlooked for promotion by the powers that be. Reverse racism, they say. They both grasp for control over their lives, even as a series of incidents precipitate a deluge which threatens to ruin their careers, their homes, and their friendship.
Their need to take command is reflected in the structure of the script: two back-to-back monologues intersect and interject each other, creating a battle for dominance. As discrepancies in their story increase, so too does the will to have the last word. But neither character really wins out. Instead it’s the constant, steady storm that supposedly leads them to their fates.
It may be that the performance suffers from unfortunate timing. In 2007, when Keith Huff’s play first opened, Denny and Joey’s casual racism, their misconduct and borderline corruption might have been less damning characteristics. But after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and after American law enforcement has been scrutinised for the questionable methods it uses to ‘serve and protect’, it becomes hard to empathize with two white cops who shout helplessness as the water levels rise. You can no longer just ‘blame it on the rain’.
There is a nagging sense however that the problems amount to more than just contextual complications. As much as it wants to be, it’s not a play about the fickleness of fate. Denny and Joey are not suffering from wrong time/wrong place syndrome. They are agents of power, and their actions (and the way they interpret them) are pivotal to the plot. When Denny cries in agony ‘It is me’, realising the suffering surrounding him has a common denominator, it feels like a blatantly obvious fact, one made self-evident even by the end of the first act.
Worse still, Denny and Joey are not the most compelling characters in their own story. Connie, Denny’s wife and Joey’s romantic interest, or Rhonda, Denny’s lover, are sadly left voiceless even while their accounts would make invaluable and enriching additions to the text. And that’s not even mentioning the actual victims, the ones left silenced or tragically lost in translation.
Even while Huff offers an action-packed and entertaining drama, and while Regan gives a forceful performance as Denny, both play and production ineffectively take responsibility for the agency they do have. Andrew Pearson’s production feels as if it’s being lead against its will. The pacing is erratic, the lighting at times distracting, and even the actors concede to a higher power, often stumbling over their lines as the play rolls to its thunderous conclusion. Not much is steady about it.
When we tell stories, we are in charge. We not only choose what to include and what to omit, but we are capable of manipulating the rhythm as we see fit. We are, in effect, in complete control of our own timing. Both the characters in the play and the production itself find themselves in this privileged position but fail to fully harness it. Thrown straight into the driver’s seat, it becomes apparent that although it may be a joy ride, A Steady Rain has little knowledge of where it’s going.
A Steady Rain is on until 5th March 2016. Click here for tickets.