You enter in darkness. You leave in darkness. In between, two actors cast light on the darkest places of the soul. Yeah, 10 p.m. is the ideal curtain time for A Steady Rain, which occupies Carolina Actors Studio Theatre Friday and Saturday nights through June 30.
Keith Huffs play got a lot of attention three years ago, because it paired two movie stars taking breaks from huge paydays: Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, who made his Broadway debut.
Those two packed theaters for the limited run, but reviews made me wonder if there was much of a play under the celebrity trimmings. The answer is yes.
700 Miles South Theatre Company takes its clunky name from a desire to embody the passion, training and experience that are New York City, according to a press release. It chose its inaugural show wisely: JR Adduci and John C. Cunningham play Chicago cops at the edges of their frayed tethers and supply the kind of intense experience audiences seek in Manhattan.
The show begins in an interrogation room, an apt setting: Denny (Adduci) and Joey (Cunningham) have probably beaten or cajoled suspects into confessing there, and this play is one big, gradual confession.
Though the show lasts just 85 minutes, it contains enough drama for a mini-series: multiple murders, hookers, an enraged pimp, corrupt cops, a drive-by shooting, departmental infighting. The central incident, the one that triggers tragedy, comes when a naked Vietnamese boy bursts into the street, screaming in terror. The two cops, preoccupied with other matters, return him to the custody of a smiling blond guy, who says hes the boys uncle.
We hear about all of this from the men themselves. Dennys about to unravel like a ball of yarn in the jaws of a kitten: His manhood is tangled up with his job and family responsibilities, both of which he feels vaguely ashamed to be shirking.
Joey, his best friend since kindergarten, has taken beatings from Denny for as long as he recalls sometimes literally, sometimes psychologically. Now hes falling in love with Dennys wife while trying to help his pal curb a self-destructive streak. He begins to suspect his rise in life may inextricably be linked to Dennys fall.
Director Michael Harris frames the action well, almost filmically, focusing the monologues and dialogues like close-ups and two-shots in a film noir. Michael Simmons, who runs CAST but did not produce this show, added atmospheric lighting that sets the action against shadowed fire escapes and silhouettes of topless models in a red-light district.
You can see why Jackman and Craig took these roles: Both have played tough guys from Wolverine to James Bond, and Rain gave them a chance to add vulnerability to volatility.
Adduci and Cunningham find the right rapid-fire rattle for their exchanges, like cars on an El train about to rocket off the track. And as the show approaches the midnight hour, they take us down into the midnight of these two harrowed souls.