While the idea of performing A Steady Rain in the VIP room at the top of Vancouver’s infamous Penthouse Nightclub may be a titillating draw for some (or perhaps a barrier for those who wouldn’t be caught dead walking through its doors), its site-specific location has little impact on this gritty police tale. For just beyond the dust, cobwebs and memorabilia of the VIP room’s lobby is a pretty vanilla black box theatre.
But just because the venue is more window dressing and marketing draw than full-on participant, it doesn’t lessen the impact of play itself. This is largely due to Keith Huff’s tightly wound and intriguing script, and two absolutely terrific performances from Daniel Deorksen and David Newham.
(Don’t be too distracted by The Penthouse’s ever-changing marquee [on opening night it read: “Less Fake News, More Fake Boobs”] or be furtive in a desire for a quick entrance into this den of iniquity. If you do, you risk missing the guy playing the saxophone outside its doors. Not your everyday street busker, it is musician Kurt Schindelka who you will eventually find behind the piano upstairs, providing live accompaniment to the action onstage. More on him a little later in this review.)
A Steady Rain is the tale of two Chicago police officers who are long-time 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, and the second involving a young Vietnamese boy. Drawing some of its inspiration from real-life, revealing them would spoil some of the play’s many surprises.
And while it all may sound like just another buddy-cop story, what sets A Steady Rain apart from its television and film cousins is in its compelling structure.
A duologue, the play alternates between individual monologues and present-moment scenes. In one instant Joey or Denny may be describing action, and in the next they finish each other’s sentences. 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.
Having worked in other capacities with Seven Tyrants since the company’s inception ten years ago, Deorksen and Newham finally find themselves on stage together. Their long-time collaboration has obviously served them well, translating wonderfully onto the stage.
Physically, Deorksen and Newham would be clichés if they weren’t so good together. Under the direction of Bill Devine, they not only find the real connection between the two cops, but where this production really shines comes from the seamless ease to what can be tricky transitions between storyteller and participant.
The larger of the two, Newham towers over his smaller cop friend. He is explosive in contrast to the smaller Deorksen. What makes their performances so powerful though is an ebb and flow to the often-times large emotions, with lesser productions bursting out of the gate with nowhere to go. And even as they veer towards melodramatic territory in the penultimate scene, there remains a satisfying build and release.
While Deorksen and Newham are hard at work on stage, visible stage left is Kurt Schindelka, replacing his saxophone with a piano to provide a live musical soundtrack. There is a pulp fiction detective vibe to the music, at times feeling somewhat anachronistic to this contemporary story. But like most good soundtracks, it works best as it fades into the background to underscore the action.
It took Deorksen and Newham ten years to find the right vehicle to come together on stage. It was worth the wait.
A Steady Rain by Keith Huff. Directed by Bill Devine. A Seven Tyrants Theatre production, on stage at The Penthouse (1019 Seymour St, Vancouver) until March 3. Visit https://seventyrants.com for tickets and information.
(Editor’s Note: this review was edited to correct a mistake in identifying the two actor’s characters).