Long before Craig kick started the James Bond franchise and Jackman strapped on the claws of the comix superhero Wolverine for the "X-Men" movies, both were accomplished stage vets. Craig starred in the London productions of Hurlyburly and Angels in America. Jackman won kudos for his Curly in the West End production of Oklahoma! and a Tony for reincarnating Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz on Broadway. So, although the folks lining up to see A Steady Rain may be there to stare at two great looking movie stars (a friend calls it “The Hunk Show”) what they’ll see are two stage actors having the time of their lives.
A Steady Rain, which premiered in Chicago in 2007 with a far less star-studded cast, is not a great play. It’s a buddy story, told primarily in a series of monologues, in which two cops who grew up together and became squad car partners recount the events that lead them awry. The 85-minute play is stuffed with more drama than a season of “Law & Order” but it is still sketchy enough to seem like the treatment pitch for a movie. And indeed, the script by playwright Keith Huff (the editor of a medical website) has already been optioned by the folks who produce the James Bond movies (click here to read a story about Huff, who, after writing 60 plays, is now about to quit his day job).
In the meantime, however, the play does provide a terrific showcase for actors (audition directors should get ready to hear endless recitations of these speeches). In director John Crowley’s taut production, the characters sit on straight-backed chairs under interrogation lights and speak directly to the audience, although there are moments when they roam the stage and interact. Some of the stories they tell are funny; others almost excruciatingly painful and intense, which explains why the actors got pissed off last Wednesday when a cell phone went off in the audience during a key scene. (Click here to watch the incident, apparently recorded by someone else's cell phone.)
Craig and Jackman bite into their roles with the gusto of men who haven’t had a decent meal in a long while. Jackman plays Denny, the alpha male in the relationship, the one who has the beautiful wife and the kids, who drives the patrol car and takes the lead in roughing up suspects and taunting them with racial epithets. Craig is Joey, his lifelong sidekick, a recovering alcoholic who lives alone and has learned over the years to go along to get along. Both actors—one Brit, the other an Aussie—assume working-class Chicago accents. The accents are O.K. but the performances are terrific.
At the Sunday matinee my husband K and I attended Jackman seemed more comfortable onstage and better able to project his voice when the play began. But Craig used what seemed an early tentativeness to the advantage of his meek character and by the time the play ends, he, like Harriet Walter in last season’s Mary Stuart, has turned an unflashy role into the heart and soul of the show.
The actors are supported by a crackerjack design team. Scott Pask’s spare scenery is surprisingly cinematic and, aided by Hugh Vanstone’s smart lighting, wonderfully effective. Musical underscoring can sometimes be obtrusive but the soundscape by Mark Bennett helps establish the mood. Yes, you can see the end of the play coming long before it gets there but the journey is thoroughly enjoyable and its conductors give theatrical carpetbagging a good name.