‘Steady Rain’ remains a powerful Chicago story at heart

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“A Steady Rain,” a thrilling, chilling drama about two childhood friends-turned-cops, comes to the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center’s Playhouse Theatre this weekend.

The play’s story centers on two Chicago cops, Denny and Joey, who have been best friends since childhood. They make a grievous mistake when they return a child to a serial killer who claims to be the boy’s uncle. When the child becomes the killer’s latest victim, the pair’s lifelong friendship is put to the test when it’s clear that someone must answer for the error.

“A Steady Rain” stars Randy Steinmeyer as Denny and Peter DeFario as Joey, reprising their roles as the cops. It is directed by Russ Tutterow, artistic director at Chicago Dramatists.

“It’s a police drama told in a very unusual style,” Tutterow said. “It’s largely two guys talking to the audience. It sounds like, who would want to see that? But it’s the most riveting thing I’ve ever seen onstage. It’s really written in an unusual manner.”

The Chicago Dramatists produced the world premiere in 2007. The play won the Jeff Award for best new work, best production, and a best actor nod for Steinmeyer.

Some producers in New York saw it, and moved it to the Royal George Cabaret in Chicago for a three-month run. The plan was to take it to New York with the original cast and put it in a small theater on Broadway.

“Somehow or other, [film star] Daniel Craig got a hold of it and wanted to do it. And he brought in Hugh Jackman,” Tutterow said. “Suddenly it turned into a Broadway production. You couldn’t get a ticket to it; the place was packed. Since then it’s been all around the world … and translated into all kinds of languages. But we did the original production. And we have the original two actors and I’m the original director. It’s a real Chicago show.”

The Chicago Dramatists’ resident playwright Keith Huff penned “A Steady Rain.”

“One day he walked in with this play and said, ‘I don’t know if this works, because it breaks all the rules of playwriting, but I’d like to hear it,’” Tutterow said. “So we put actors together and did a reading, and then did a public reading, and it was just a knockout. Even in a reading, people are crying, I’m crying. It’s hilariously funny, and it’s scary. It’s just a wonderful piece of writing.”

That begs the question, are those tears of laughter or sorrow? Tutterow was deliberate with his answer.

“It comes to a bad end, in some ways,” he said, slowly. “In some ways, it comes to a kind of wonderful end, kind of a very positive one. You go through every emotion with this play. It’s funny as hell, it’s exciting, it’s suspenseful, and it tears your heart out a couple of times. It’s really something.”

He believes people have responded so favorably to this play is because the writing and acting are so powerful.

“I think you just get involved. It happens very slowly and gradually,” he said. “These two policemen, they have good qualities and bad qualities. They’re sympathetic. You’re hoping for the best for these guys even though they made some terrible mistakes. They made one really sort of innocent mistake that caused a great tragedy.”

Despite having done the play for years, his actors just keep getting better, he said. “It’s astounding they can do all this night after night after night. It’s very intense. But they love it. It gets richer. They find new stuff.”

Annie Alleman is a local freelance writer.

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