Several Thursday eves ago my two older sisters and brother took me for a night on the town to celebrate Baby Sister’s 21st birthday. The night had all the makings of a Ha Sibling Extravaganza: tears, laughter, self-congratulatory remarks, Scotch, Hugh Jackman, a prostitute named Marla, rain that is steady, and heroin.
*A Steady Rain* (now playing at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre at West 45th between 7th and 8th Aves) is a “rough and gritty” play (not a musical, as I had been led to believe) directed by John Crawley, starring those Hollywood Hunks/Heartthrobs/ Hotties/He-men Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. It was no thanks to the headlining of these two hulking A-listers that when I saw the play on October 1, just two nights after its opening, the audience was filled mostly with gaggles of fifty-something B&T mothers wriggling in their seats with nervous anticipation. The curtain opened on a nearly empty set. Jackman and Craig, both dressed in ill-tailored suits, sat facing in the audience in two folding chairs. What ensued can only be described as 90 minutes of a steady pain.
The play is the story of best friends Joey (Craig) and Denny (Jackman), two white cops from Chicago struggling to do good by one another and finding it increasingly difficult to do so. Both have been denied promotions time and time again for their contentious, potentially racist remarks (“What? That Puerto Rican-American gentleman was perfectly nice.”), but the implication is that had it not been for these minor incidents, Joey and Denny would be movin’ on up. The story of two morally upright down-and-out cops is conventional potentially poignant, yet somehow *A Steady Rain* fails on almost all accounts, managing to be ludicrous in plot and completely forgettable in execution.
The emotional crux of the play is that while alpha male Denny is out trying to avenge a pimp drive-by that puts his youngest son in the hospital, Joey is trying desperately to stay sober and take care of Denny’s family, including Denny’s unseen but presumably hot wife Connie. Meanwhile Denny is out on the streets hunting down Marla’s pimp, discovering his love for dope, and defying authority. When the story starts Joey and Denny are best friends: Joey is a luckless alcoholic bachelor with a heart of gold and a liver of steel; Denny is a family man with a wandering eye and a big mouth from the not-so-South. By the end of the play, Denny cheats on his wife with a prostitute named Marla—who has just secretly given birth to a girl (they both die)—does a butt-load of smack, and kills Marla’s pimp. And then he dies.
The events that transpire are told to us through 90 minutes of straight intermission-less narrative, with the two men taking turns telling the story. There are almost no scene changes, and the characters other than Denny and Joey are only spoken of, never seen. The score is kitschy. Most of the audience’s laughter is nervous. Hugh Jackman never takes his shirt off.
The play itself is at best unremarkable and at worst completely forgettable: the story, script, and set are cheesy and melodramatic, and the set is nonexistent. The rain that never seems to let up (and is constantly referenced but never heard) is a weak trope that doesn’t set the appropriate mood. A steady rain suggests a dull monotony, in no way fitting as the setting for the demise of a character who is spiraling out of control—shooting and killing an innocent boy, leading a drugged teenager to his doom (at the hands of a cannibal, no less), laying by the side of the road shooting up while waiting for his next victim. Not to mention that Denny’s ludicrous character development, or devolution, is consistently justified only by the claim that he must protect his family. But the claim is never quite convincing.
What saves the experience from utter disaster are Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman’s performances. For a Brit and an Aussie, their blue-collar Chicago accents are dead-on and they both fit comfortably well into their characters. Without much effort Jackman dominates the stage, just as he did as Peter Allen in *The Boy from Oz*, for which he won the 2004 Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. Hugh Jackman is actually huge. (Ack, man!) Just striding across the stage, sleeves rolled up and hair swept easily to one side, Jackman makes the shitty story worth the $74.50 for all those swooning Burberry-clad New Jewsey moms in the audience. (Others, however, might keep wondering where the money went.) Jackman radiates confidence, and even while he is unwittingly leaving the homeless Vietnamese teenager to die at the hands of the serial man-eater, we can’t help but be the tiniest bit charmed. (Though it would help if he took off his shirt.)
The real surprise and charm, however, is Daniel Craig’s depiction of Joey. Gray, mousy, and mustached, Craig is a mere wisp of a man standing next to his Greek god counterpart. From our contextualization of Craig as the rippled and hardened James Bond, it’s hard to imagine Craig can play someone who is such a pussy. But Daniel Craig is so convincing as the desperate and skinny sidekick that the actor is recognizable only by his name in the playbill. With his shirt on, Joey is the real moral victor of the play, and Craig’s performance is easily the best part of the show.
There’s something to be said for the art of storytelling. I acknowledge the dying art of straight narrative, of stories without pictures, of the power of imagination. I do not, however, understand a mainstream “action” play starring two Blockbuster Bros who do nothing but stand on a stage and read you a story. This is a recession, people. Make it a radio play and call it a night.