Seen on Broadway: A Steady Rain is falling at the Gerard Schoenfeld, and so are boxoffice records. Keith Huff’s Chicago-set melodrama about two cops was performed in the Windy City with local talent, and it might be instructive to revisit it some day with, say, actors of the caliber and profile of Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy in the leads. But the Main Stem demands spectacle, and to get the fall season off to a star-crossed start come the boy from Oz, Hugh Jackman, and the current 007, Daniel Craig. As the two-hander opens I braced myself: The guys were really acting with a capital A, squeezing out every syllable for Chicago intonation and thundering about the black box-ish stage as if daring you to ask why two American actors weren’t playing the parts. But gradually the parts, and the show, took hold.
With minimal means Pillowman director John Crowley has staged the piece for maximum wallop. The actors are seated on the two chairs that are the bulk of Scott Pask’s set, and wearing his costumes. Clothes make the men: The mustachioed Craig’s rumpled suit indicates a bureaucratic fustiness, while the rangier Jackman, who is at least a head taller than his co-star, is more relaxed and stylish, in a Chicago cop sort of way. Craig’s cautious Denny, who seems to be a decade older than the performer, says “effin”; Jackman’s Joey lets it all hang out. While the two do interact much of the 90-minute show is a series of profane and increasingly lurid monologues, tracing Joey’s rocky path toward vengeance against a pimp who has attacked his family and Denny’s immersion in the quest. This detours into back alleys of storylines about alcoholism, drug use, hookers, incest, infidelity, homicide, and a grisly incident adapted from the Jeffrey Dahmer case. While over-the-top in sections—a fleshed-out movie based on this material and starring these two actors would be a questionable prospect—it’s not dull, and is as pure, and as stark, as top-ticket theatre gets. The actors give double-barreled performances, with Craig, in his Broadway debut, a particularly good contrast to the higher-wattage Jackman.
There’s a lot of talk of rain, which comes down in Biblical proportions, but unlike in the (inferior) Julia Roberts “event” Three Days of Rain or the recent Mary Stuart there’s none onstage, save for splashes on the opening scrim. Pask has provided some Gothic-looking tenements and a wooded setting for backdrop settings in a handful of scenes, which loom into view courtesy of Hugh Vanstone’s incisive lighting—the actors are positioned below interrogation-room fixtures, with occasional thatches of illumination creating a noir-like atmosphere. Mark Bennett’s fine score and sound effects are brought in for backup, not that the two stars require much in the way of reinforcement. A Steady Rain plays through December 6.
Seen Off Broadway: With the change in the weather comes new seasons for some venerable companies. The Mint Theatre Company, which specializes in rescuing forgotten plays, has found one worthy of its efforts in Lennox Robinson’s 1933 comedy Is Life Worth Living? Robinson gently tweaks the provincialism of his native Ireland and the pretensions of outsiders who might try to “uplift” its citizens, as a repertory company specializing in heavy dramas takes a summer engagement at a seaside hotel that usually books lighter fare. But a steady diet of Ibsen, Strindberg and Tolstoy brings everyone down, as solid relationships crumble, dirty laundry is aired, and self-doubt takes over.
Referencing the War and Peace author is surely an in-joke regarding a recent Mint revival, of his total bummer The Power of Darkness. That’s the kind of larky, lighthearted piece (or “exaggeration,” as Robinson put it) this is, with archly amusing performances by Kevin Kilner and Jordan Baker as the husband-and-wife acting team who are determined to bring introspection to the masses and more sweetly flavored work from the townsfolk who fall into a funk once the great masters take their toll.
The design is a study in contrasts. Susan Zeeman Rogers’ floral sitting room in the hotel is a warm and sunny place, gradually overtaken by a shift in Jeff Nellis’ lighting to bleakness as the very weather is consumed by the turbulent plays. (The thunder-and-lighting effects are the work of sound designer Jane Shaw.) Martha Hally provides attractive period costumes. The company’s artistic director, Jonathan Bank, might have shaved ten or so minutes off the running time—the soufflé tone is difficult to sustain—but otherwise this is one revisit that’s truly in “Mint” condition. The show runs through October 18.
For its 15th anniversary season, the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater has rebooted Lucy Thurber’s Killers and Other Family, a disappointment in 2001. Thurber had a hit for the Atlantic Theater Company two seasons back with Scarcity but even with rewriting this earlier white-trash melodrama hasn’t improved with age. The penultimate chapter of Thurber’s loosely autobiographical five-part series of plays, the production stars Samantha Soule as Lizzie, a Manhattan student who is putting the finishing touches on her dissertation when a knock on the door brings the unwelcome intrusion of her brother Jeff (Dashiell Eaves) and her high school boyfriend Danny (Shane McRae). The uncouth rustics, who hail from the rural Massachusetts hellhole that Lizzie has put behind her, make a mess of her tidier life as they scheme to flee to Mexico to escape a terrible crime. But their loitering threatens Lizzie and her girlfriend, Claire (Aya Cash)—and an audience that has seen far too much of this thing.
Well-acted but unpleasant and unedifying, the 75-minute piece still drags, with director Catriona McLaughlin accentuating the obvious at every turn. The designers respond the only way they could, with a clammy realism in the modestly appointed set (by John McDermott), lighting (Benjamin Ehrenreich) and costumes (Emily Rebholz). The most interesting touch is in the sound design, by Isaac Butler. I wasn’t sure if the window in the set was an actual window, open to Waverly Place below, or if the very convincing ambient noise was being piped in. Whatever—it raises the possibility of escape, something some viewers will want to do a few minutes in. Killers and Other Family runs through October 17 ---- Robert Cashill