The sound of rain at the Marin Theatre Company doesn’t just signal a change in the weather. In “A Steady Rain,” it’s part of an atmosphere of violence, deception and retribution that threatens a pair of wayward cops and everyone around them.
Keith Huff’s two-character drama, which was a hit in Chicago and New York — the Broadway production featured film stars Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig — is making its West Coast premiere in a smartly staged production directed by Meredith McDonough. If the opening night performance didn’t mine every nuance of this gritty, tightly packed script, it certainly captured its turbulent noir style.
Denny (Khris Lewin) and Joey (Kevin Rolston), best friends since childhood, seem like opposites — Denny, the family man, is impulsive, hot-tempered and given to walks on the wild side, while Joey, the bachelor, is a quiet, play-by-the-rules guy.
But their partnership has weathered both their inner demons and the hazards of their beat in some of Chicago’s seediest neighborhoods.
After years on the job, though, their dreams are slowly dying. Both have been passed over for promotion, and the marks against them — Joey’s alcoholism, Denny’s womanizing and their joint complaints against the department’s “racial quotas” — are piling up.
Recounted in alternating monologues, Huff’s elliptical script brings the job home in personal ways.
Murder, prostitution, drive-by shootings and a cannibal killer are played against the backdrop of an oppressive summer storm, with the temperature rising inexorably until the pressure breaks like water over a dam.
McDonough and her designers — Andrew Boyce (sets), Lucas Krech (lights), Chris Houston (sound) and Maggie Whitaker (costumes) — place the show in a claustrophobic interrogation room, with just a pair of chairs and a couple of lights to suggest the cops’ milieu.
As each man tells his side of the story, McDonough’s staging is precise and deliberate, ratcheting up the tension throughout the 90-minute (without intermission) running time.
The actors give taut, well-timed performances, although both hit rough patches on opening night (the Chicago accents were particularly uneven). Lewin’s Denny is aptly aggressive, though, and Rolston slowly reveals the ambition under Joey’s stolid front.
Eventually, all rules go out the window and the dark poetry of noir exerts its grip. Audiences weaned on cop dramas may see what’s coming before the show reaches its conclusion. But “A Steady Rain” is still an exhilarating ride.
A Steady Rain
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 26
Tickets: $34 to $55
Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org