Two decades ago after years in the Chicago storefront scene, playwright Keith Huff had a critically acclaimed hit with “A Steady Rain,” a gritty drama about two morally compromised cops. It was the play that changed his life when it got national attention via a 2009 Broadway production starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman.
Huff moved on to a Hollywood career writing for shows such as “Mad Men,” “House of Cards” and “American Crime.” He’s continued to intersperse this financially stabilizing work with writing for the theater.
‘Six Corners’ When: Feb. 16-March 24 Where: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Tickets: $19-$49 Info: americanbluestheater.com
Huff returns to his examination of morally conflicted cops in his newest play, “Six Corners,” now in a world premiere production at American Blues Theater under the direction of Gary Griffin. It’s the third work in Huff’s cop trilogy along with “A Steady Rain” and “The Detective’s Wife,” a 2011 solo piece that starred Barbara Robertson in a Writers Theatre staging also directed by Griffin.
“I really love plays that wrangle with a complex morality and that put characters into situations where their consciences are really being put through some sort of crucible,” Huff says.
In “Six Corners,” Monica Orozco and Peter DeFaria star as night shift detectives investigating the puzzling murder of a CTA employee who was shot on the platform at the Western Brown Line stop. What should be a simple open-and-shut case eventually uncovers another violent act from the past. Brenda Barrie and Manny Buckley portray the couple who may have witnessed the murder; Grier Burke and Byron Glenn Willis are ghosts from the past.
DeFaria also starred in that first Chicago Dramatists production of “A Steady Rain.” Huff says he wrote the new role with DeFaria in mind.
“Peter helped me develop the play from the very beginning,” Huff notes. “He says this new role feels like his character from ‘A Steady Rain’ only 10 years later.”
“Six Corners” was partially inspired by a horrific incident Huff experienced one day while on the same L platform when a CTA worker who had been shot died in his arms.
“That experience stuck with me, and like with all my plays it’s my story but it’s not, as I invented different characters around it,” Huff says, adding, “The plays asks, ‘Do we live in a just or unjust world?’ These characters have different answers to that question, which makes for some great moral fireworks.”
While the play’s title refers to the Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee intersection in Portage Park where several scenes take place, Griffin also sees the title as a reference to the clash of the six characters’ points of view.
“I really love these strong characters all of which are flawed and challenged and fighting for survival,” Griffin says. “The play requires us to look at things from the other person’s perspective.”
Huff began his career as a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, where the late artistic director Russ Tutterow championed his work. He hit inspirational gold when he married into a family of Chicago cops and heard stories about the ethical questions cops face on a nearly daily basis.
“My father-in-law was one of the most ethical men I’ve ever met,” Huff recalls. “When he’d talk about the moral dilemmas he was put into in the police department, I was fascinated. It was my way into finding out what motivates cops.”
Huff is currently working on a television adaptation of the book “American Pharaoh,” an account of Richard J. Daley’s life. On another project, he’s partnering with screenwriter/director Larry Kasdan for an adaptation of another book, “Finding Chandra,” about the 2001 disappearance of Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy. And on yet another project, he is developing “Gangs of New York” into a series for Miramax with Martin Scorsese as executive producer.
Despite all these Hollywood and New York connections, Huff has never relocated and still lives on the Far Northwest Side in the Edgebrook neighborhood. Griffin feels his deep-rooted familiarity with Chicago is a plus for the play and its audience.
“In this play, Keith asks a lot of questions about police work, about corruption, about justice, about compromise. I think his love of the city is on the page, and that leads us deeper into the questions and challenges this play depicts.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.