The first time Peter DeFaria and Randy Steinmeyer played two struggling Chicago cops in Keith Huff's heart-thumping drama "A Steady Rain," the air was thick with possibility. It was clear this gritty and emotionally resonant police yarn — much in the storytelling style of "The Wire" or "Homicide" or "Boss" — about loyalty, partnership, crime, family and the soul-snuffing difficulties of patrolling the rough Chicago streets while maintaining protocol, should be headed beyond Chicago Dramatists, where it premiered in 2007. And so it did. A couple of Broadway producers got hold of it, replaced DeFaria and Steinmeyer, who look and feel like two Chicago cops, with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, who absolutely do not, and sold pretty much every available seat during a limited Broadway run in the fall of 2008. Huff's professional life was changed for good (and deservedly so). DeFaria and Steinmeyer, I recall, didn't get so much as a free ticket to opening night.
Faced with that scenario — not uncommon in the theater — a good actor simply moves on. Or, in this case, shrugs it all off and comes back. DeFaria and Steinmeyer now are behind their old shared desk at Chicago Dramatists in a reprise staging of the same show, taking place five years later at the same tiny theater. It's now under the auspices of a new, for-profit endeavor called the Chicago Commercial Collective, which aims to invest in small Chicago shows and keep them open in healthy runs. Despite the new producers, it's pretty much the same staging, as directed by Russ Tutterow, then and now.
I've now seen "A Steady Rain" four times (the original opening, a transfer to the Royal George Cabaret, then the Broadway production with Jackman and Craig, and now this one. Obviously, the script, which is performed in the simple style of two overlapping monologues of deliberately uncertain context, no longer contains much suspense for me. It feels to some extent like everyone is trying to put the proverbial lightening back in the bottle this time around, especially since the production is much the same. The theater, though, always moves on. The Chicago streets already have changed, and hardly for the better. In "A Steady Rain," the cops spend a lot of time worrying about pimps and the hookers on the North Avenue Bridge; in the face of this summer's endless stream of catastrophic shootings, such characters seem almost sweet.
But if you haven't seen the show (and the first time around, the seats were often filled with police officers, who appreciated the veracity), "A Steady Rain" remains a powerful and poignant piece of Chicago writing and a work of thick, juicy storytelling that will certainly hold all of your attention for 95 minutes. It strikes a note of compassion for those who spent their lives on the front lines, where human mistakes can have horrific consequences. And it has returned to the space where it always worked best of all.
DeFaria and Steinmeyer have a couple of new advantages. For one thing, they're five years older, which fits these characters better. For another, most of the story of this play has been already written. The air now is not so much thick with possibility as coping with the ghosts of the past, and that's a more fitting milieu for the characters of Denny and Joey, both of whom have been passed over for the rank of detective, and who are trying to navigate a world of reduced personal expectations, as so many of us do in middle age. DeFaria and Steinmeyer are skilled actors who know how to use all of that to their advantage.
DeFaria, who plays Joey, the follower to Denny's leader, is especially fine now. With tufts of gray in his hair, his sense of insecurity and uncertainty only has deepened, although he still has that quiet but crucial note of potential malice that the character needs for the drama to work — sometimes the dark horses just decide to grab whatever trophies they can. Steinmeyer is a fine craftsman who could do this role in his sleep, although he has to guard now against lapsing into a pre-packaged character. In his best moments, and there are many, Steinmeyer shows you, with renewed intensity, the whites of his eyes and the impossibility of serving and protecting without personal cost.
When: Through Sept. 2
Where: Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Tickets: $45 at 800-595-4849 or asteadyrainchicago.com
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