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'A Steady Rain': A busy script is settled by Gremlin Theatre’s sparse set

Sarah Bauer

Sarah Bauer

Two cops. Partners. Best buds since they were kids. One’s a bachelor and has a problem with the bottle. One’s a family man and has a problem with screwing the hookers he’s supposed to be arresting. One night they’re out on patrol, and what seems like a routine call turns into a shocking encounter that will test their friendship—and change their lives forever.

You’ve seen this movie, right? Actually, you haven’t, and it’s not a movie. It’s Keith Huff’s 2007 play A Steady Rain, now at Gremlin Theatre in a tight, watchable production. Director Ellen Fenster achieves an impressively cinematic scope on a sparse stage populated with only two actors. The problem is the script, which is implausibly full of incident.

By the time Denny (Dustin Bronson) and Joey (Peter Christian Hansen) get to that fateful night, they’re already involved in two major plot threads. Denny’s caught in an escalating cycle of retribution with a vicious pimp, while Joey’s eyeing the possibility of slipping into the marital bed his friend’s been neglecting. Denny’s young son is also in the hospital fighting for life, having taken a shard of glass to the neck when the family’s living room window got shot out.

Amid this circus of activity, Bronson and Hansen stay rooted in their characters, and their sheer physical intensity is just as gripping as any number of onscreen stunts or explosions would be. Though Huff’s tale is too twisted, there’s real force in the telling. The two men make their respective cases directly to the audience, and they each become increasingly isolated: At the show’s opening, they’re warmly bantering back and forth, but eventually they start taking turns in the spotlight with stories that start to diverge in perspective, emphasis, and even basic facts.

While the stage is almost bare, Fenster creates a rich urban world. Carl Schoenborn’s lighting and Katharine Horowitz’s sound design unfold in synchrony to transport us from grimy streets to sweaty sheets. The power of a climactic moment when a single, crucial prop emerges reminds us of how much these artists have evoked while showing us so little.

A Steady Rain has had a decade of successful runs at theaters across the country, and yet it still feels like a script in the workshopping stage. The amount of drama that befalls these cops strains credulity, which is a shame since both actors inhabit their roles with weary ease and precisely delineated fault lines. A sharper script would focus on their relationship, and not get lost in the weeds trying to cram an entire season’s worth of story into less than two hours.

The Gremlin team has created a near-impeccable small-scale production, making the most of a script that demonstrates that when it comes to theatrical world-building, less can indeed be more. Too bad Huff didn’t apply that principle to his plot.

A Steady Rain
Gremlin Theatre
550 Vandalia St., St. Paul
1-888-71-TICKETS; through February 3