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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: A Steady Rain is an actor’s exercise

Playwright's structure helps elevate stage play from its television roots

A Steady Rain could just as easily be an episode of your favourite television police procedural. Not surprising perhaps as playwright Keith Huff’s credits include writer/producer on the ABC anthology series, American Crime (not to mention House of Cards and Mad Men).

Inspired in part by the real-life corruption of the Chicago police force, it also draws from a 1991 incident in which two Milwaukee police officers handed over a teen to notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer would eventually go on to kill the young man.

A Steady Rain is the tale of two Chicago police officers who are longtime partners and friends. Joey is an alcoholic. Denny is a hot-head with serious relationship issues. The story largely relates two specific events in the lives of these two men. The first deals with the injury of Denny’s young son in retaliation for the cop’s harassment of a local pimp, and the second involving a young Vietnamese boy (mirroring the Dahmer murder). Drawing the attention of internal affairs, the fate of at least one of the two men is sealed.

A classic buddy cop story at its surface, what sets A Steady Rain apart from its television cousins is in how Huff has structures his play.

A duologue, the play alternates between individual monologues and present-moment scenes, as it illustrates their relationship and the two pivotal plot points. It is an intriguing construction as the two characters add their own colour to what has taken place in one breath, while reliving moments together in another.

Under Christiaan Westerveld’s direction the two cops, played by Artin John and James Challis, are studies in contrast.

John is explosive right out-of-the-gate. No small measures here, while it is amazing to see him sustain at such a level through the relatively quick 70-minute show, there is little variation. John’s rushed delivery and heavy Italian accent does little to pull us into the story early.

Contrasting his volatile friend, as Denny, Challis is quiet and almost introspective. Like John, there is little variation in his delivery. At times Challis looked uncomfortable standing to deliver his monologues. Interestingly, Challis goes for all-American although his Aussie accent comes through on occasion.

Both actors do settle into their roles about 45 minutes into this production, but by this time pieces of the story are missing and way in as an audience is that much more difficult. Without our necessary connection to these two men, the finale feels overly melodramatic.

Under Westerveld’s direction the set is spare with the bulk of the action taking place on two chairs centre stage. A file-strewn table inside what we assume is the police precinct is wholly under-utilized and could have easily helped Challis.

Like other shows of its kind, with intense and meaty roles for its actors, it is difficult not to view this production as a vanity project of sorts. It may be an actor’s work-out, but it also felt at times as if the audience was only a necessary afterthought.

A Steady Rain by Keith Huff. A Share Productions presentation. Directed by Christiaan Westerveld. On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until September 30. Tickets are available online at

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