By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
NEW YORK Wouldn't you know it? The two sexiest cops in all of Chicago -- maybe even in the annals of law enforcement -- also happen to be the force's two biggest pains in the A.
They're tough as nails, yes, but careless, violent and just a wee bit unobservant, too: There's the little matter of their mistaking a serial killer for an avuncular caregiver.
Yet since they are played by two honest-to-goodness, in-their-prime Hollywood leading men -- Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman -- you sorta kinda want to cut them some slack. I mean, how hard of a hard guy could a dapper heartthrob like Jackman ever really be?
The problem with "A Steady Rain," the pulpy police drama that opened Tuesday night at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, is that the stars' surface ruggedness is the evening's only magnetic facet. A 90-minute "duologue" in which the actors recount an absurdly calamity-filled few weeks in the lives of two maverick crime fighters, the play by Keith Huff packs in descriptions of enough murder and mayhem to stock entire seasons of the "CSIs" in Las Vegas, Miami, New York and for that matter Chillicothe, Ohio.
Craig, a.k.a. the latest and steeliest of the big-screen James Bonds, fares far better here, playing the more sympathetic of the men, a sadder, more disciplined officer who's spent his career cleaning up after the messes of his short-fused, trigger-happy partner.
However, Jackman, who has previously proved he can both slice mutant adversaries to ribbons in action movies and high-kick on stage like a Broadway gypsy (in "The Boy From Oz"), is entirely out of his element in the role of a miscreant cop, a role better suited to the likes of Dennis Franz.
This will doubtless turn out to be of little deterrent effect at the box office, where the play's 12-week limited engagement is selling out handily. For Jackman's externalized performance provides more in the way of what a Broadway audience craves than what the part really calls for. It's an ingratiating star turn, a prettified portrait of a seriously disturbed human being. He should be giving us a man of Macbeth-like darkness. Instead, we get musical-comedy suaveness: the rogue cop as Sky Masterson.
Huff and director John Crowley do, at least, supply a lot of what ticket buyers are paying for: face time with Craig and Jackman. They never leave the stage. The play in essence is a pair of intersecting monologues, recited by the actors, seated on metal chairs on a bare platform, under what seem to be the interrogation lights of something akin to a police internal affairs investigation. This inquiry -- or the storytelling anyway -- is occasioned by a series of miscues by Craig's Joey and Jackman's Denny that result in the death and injury of several people, strangers and loved ones alike. The parameters of the cops' confessions become a little fuzzy as the events they detail bleed into the more intimate regions of their lives. (The blurriness extends to the question of whether some portion of the speechifying occurs in the afterlife.)
What Jackman and Craig describe might come across as more entertaining or shocking if it did not feel as if it were a compressed version of the narratives of a dozen TV shows, from "Homicide: Life on the Street" to "The Wire," that have tried to get at the moral ambiguity of police work. Or perhaps if the stories were being told in a smaller theater, by a pair of actors of working-Joe countenance, able to convey in their gazes and intonations more of the soul-withering wear and tear of patrolling a beat in a bad part of town.
As it is, the playwright takes a graphic-novel approach, overloading us with depictions of violence, as if he feels the need to offer up explosive images in every panel. By the time Jackman's Denny polishes off the last credulity-defying anecdote about the wanton discharge of a weapon or the final breaths of an innocent, the surfeit of exposition has numbed us into indifference.
For all its modish, stripped-down staginess, "A Steady Rain" is presented as that timeworn convention, a star vehicle. It might be an opportunity for audiences to see in-vogue movie actors in the flesh, but otherwise it's an opportunity squandered.
A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff. Directed by John Crowley. Sets and costumes, Scott Pask; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; original music and sound, Mark Bennett. About 90 minutes. Through Dec. 6 at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., New York. Call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com.