A Steady Rain
17 February 2016
The play’s debut at the Arcola seems rather timely considering the ongoing debate on US police corruption.
Examining the blurred boundaries between morality and temptation, the play, which premiered at East Riding Theatre in Beverley last year, explores the consequences after two police officers’ accidental return of a Vietnamese boy to American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Centring on two Chicago cops, Denny (Vincent Regan) is the dominant alpha male to David Schaal’s damaged and contemplative Joey. The pair have grown up as schoolfriends who enter the police force and even patrol together. Seamlessly flitting between present and past, the two-hander is effective in its individual monologues peppered with real-time action.
Regan himself has admitted that his character’s moral compass is skewed, and it’s certainly not hard to see why. Partial to violence and intolerance and prone to temptation and vice, he’s an unsavoury character who initially is unable to garner the audience’s sympathy – no thanks to his stereotyping of the people he meets on duty.
It is even hard to see why Joey is a regular at their dinner table, only apparent when we realise that their inextricable bond is in some part due to Denny ‘saving’ Joey from an alcoholic downward spiral. It takes a while for the story to get going but it is their neighbourhood wanderings to a delinquent part of town that leads to the fateful encounter with irreversible consequences.
Eschewing any form of violence that many directors could have chosen to gratuitously stimulate the audience, the play shies away from the real horrors of Jeffrey Dahman, preferring instead to allow the audience’s imagination run amok.
It is in the second half that we begin to get an inkling for the event’s toll on his emotional wellbeing and the impact of being passed over for promotion to detective. Regan stuns here in his frustration with his long-suffering wife Connie, his devotion to children Sam and Noel and even extends startling kindness to long-time lover prostitute Rhonda, hoping to get her enrolled at secretary school. Interspersed with video montages, these are effective in presenting not only happier times, but a time they irreversibly cannot return to.
Writer Keith Huff (who has also penned Mad Men) described the play as ‘two cops, a table and chairs and two coffee cups’ that tell the story and Ed Ullyart’s set allows the audience to be immersed into the story. Forgoing any pomp and circumstance – bar the use of a red lined jacket for a prop and a water cooler – the minimalist decor coupled with the smoky dim lit room continues to indicate at the cops’ inner turmoil. The Arcola is an ideal setting for this two-hander – with the focus on just the two leading performances, it is intimate and feels at times as if we were listening in their front living room. And despite moments of utter despair, there are witty one-liners that keep the audience entertained.
However, there are times when the sequence of events flows far too quickly to be believable which results in some limp scenes. And despite Schaal excelling in his portrayal of the beta friend, we never really see Joey’s downward spiral or even how he views his relationship with his childhood friend.
What this play truly excels in, however, is the depiction of police officers’ suffering. So little do we hear the perspective of those who have shot civilians that it can be easy to simply write them off as heartless killers. The press have arrived at this very conclusion, with Joey morosely describing the pair as being scapegoated – not only by the media but their very own force. In this respect, it’s not surprising it has been described as set in the ‘not too distant past’ – it could be last year, last week or even yesterday.
The steady rains continues to be an enduring symbol until it does finally fall – only this time for real. Denny morosely stands underneath with his back turned away from the audience, hinting at an attempt to ritualistically shed himself of his guilt.
Yet it begs the question whether we ever truly can become morally ‘clean’. Can Denny and Joey ever be absolved of their error? And will their pursuit of redemption ever come into fruition?
Wrought with gun violence, this leaves you long pondering not only the effects of police power but their predicament long after the play is over. Sterling stuff.