A Steady Rain
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
September 30, 2009
How does one measure the success of a Broadway play? Hype? Box office? Standing ovations? Tony awards?
A Steady Rain is the first new Broadway play of the season, so Tony noms are still far in the offing, but there has been plenty of buzz about this two-hander starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, and the box office sales have broken records. It was clear on the night I was squeezed in to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre for Keith Huff's gritty Chicago cop-buddy drama exactly where the laughs and gasps should land, and the audience did not disappoint. That there would be a standing ovation was unquestionable. Afterwards, I heard a few conversations outside that all were some variation on the following:
GIRL WITH A STEADY RAIN PROGRAM: Hey! What did you see?
GIRL WITH GOD OF CARNAGE PROGRAM: I saw God of Carnage. What did you see?
GIRL WITH A STEADY RAIN PROGRAM: I saw A Steady Rain.
GIRL WITH GOD OF CARNAGE PROGRAM: Oh my god, A Steady Rain, did you love it?
GIRL WITH A STEADY RAIN PROGRAM: Oh my god, it was great. Did you love God of Carnage?
GIRL WITH GOD OF CARNAGE PROGRAM: It was amazing.
Now it is possible that our girl was so emotionally-wrenched by the tale of these two cops—childhood friends—at once well-intentioned and corrupt—inevitably propagating the criminal activity they are trying to wipe out—that she could only speak of the temporal, the superficial, the jejune. It is also possible that her definition of "great" is the equivalent of my slightly wordier evaluation of sitting through A Steady Rain: "Gee, my mind was mostly diverted for the last ninety minutes."
So—the mostly dismissive reactions of theatre critics aside—can we call this a successful Broadway play? I honestly don't know. Having thus far been produced in mostly intimate venues where $15 seems a rather outrageous price of admission, my metric is not box office receipts, nor awards, nor hype. One of the most important factors I use to gauge the success of my plays is: How much, if at all, do people seem to care about what they just saw? Did it awaken in them something that may have been asleep for awhile—or perhaps even something they didn't know was there? Did they leave delighted, shaken up, angry, consoled?
A Steady Rain begins with a few bullets that shatter the window of Denny's family room, wounding Denny's family; the remainder of the play is finding out why the shooting occurred, how Denny was partially responsible for it, what Denny does to avenge it that gets him suspended from the force, the effect this has on his family, and, most importantly, how Joey, his partner, former drunk and perma-bachelor, unwittingly begins to take Denny's place as ersatz husband and father as Denny goes off the deep end.
The play seems to be quietly chanting, "I am relevant, I am relevant, I am relevant." And it should be. America's take on crime and punishment—particularly the ways in which law enforcement is totally embedded in the cycle of criminal causation—should be discussed a lot more than it is. And yet the play somehow did not implicate us; it didn't even leave us with questions.
As Joey and Denny, Craig and Jackman, respectively, are giving some very emotional, if very polished, performances; they are not phoning it in. It's just the two of them alone for 90 minutes and they, along with director John Crowley, have made every moment engaging. And yet when the curtain came down, I returned to my previous preoccupations unrefreshed and unrelieved.
I suppose I've answered my own question. This is a very successful play for the cigar-chomping producer, cackling in the corner as he counts stacks of money. But it is not for those who still go to the theatre to care about something.
Look, if you have tickets already, go and see it and plan a nice dinner afterwards with some stimulating companions. If you don't have tickets, stay home and take one of the painkillers you got after that root canal last month and stare at a hologram for a few hours. It will be just as enjoyable and you won't have to clap.