"Steady Rain" - Outlook: Noir

7 Tyrants co-founders @ Penthouse black box for cop car tragicomedy

Back off, tailgaters; too close for comfort! Blue Lives Matter, too. Image: LCDPFR

Right from the very outset of A Steady Rain, co-stars Daniel Doerksen and David Newham break the figurative “Fourth Wall” of theatrical convention. They directly address the audience with their innermost thoughts, fears, shames, rages and recollections. In fact, they hardly step out of this confessional mode for the entire 105-minute length of the show.

But, in this drama, the “Fourth Wall” isn’t exactly a wall, per se; more like a high-end flatscreen, as befits the televideo chops of playwright Keith Huff (Mad Men, House of Cards, Spielberg’s cable series Why We Fight). And the screen is not just breached as a figurative convention; it’s explosively shattered with a rifle slug shot by a vengeful pimp though a crooked cop’s living room window.

Behind the smashed screen, we’re plunged into the black box of police night patrolling on the mean streets of Chicago. Black in terms of the fraught rapport of the lifelong frenemies manning the squad car and the louche parade of characters they meet on their rounds.

Black box, too, in the styling of this 7 Tyrants Theatre production. Doerksen and Newham soliloquize literally right in your face in a cramped, windowless, black-painted, 20-seater box of a room, with just two chairs and a table by way of a “stage set.”

And the black box venue itself couldn’t be more fittingly noir for such fare: the rarely used (and allegedly haunted) private penthouse atop the Penthouse strip club on Seymour Street, which has seen its share of police raids, showbiz luminaries and even a murder in the course of its 70-year history.

As co-founders and artistic producers of 7 Tyrants, Doerksen and Newham must have a congenial working relationship. After all, they’ve brought Vancouver audiences more than a score of new plays and innovative “re-imaginings” of old classic over the past decade. But, stepping out from behind the scenes to take the stage themselves as performers for the first time in many a season, they make a decidedly odd couple.

As Denny, the alpha cop at the wheel of the squad car, Newham’s impetuous, hulking, an expansively Italian family man, but also profane, bigoted and on-the-take. Doerksen plays Joey, his runty sidekick – broodingly Celtic, wispy, romantic, a recovering drunk. He’s unflaggingly loyal to Denny but conflicted about his partner’s racism and corruption.

They’ve been best buddies since grade school. Denny’s taken it on himself to rescue Joey from his squalid bachelorhood by introducing him to “the finer things,” like home cooked meals, romps with the kids, awkward blind dates and the consumerist fruits of petty graft.

But these sweets taste increasingly ashen as Denny’s ongoing little shakedowns embroil him in a running shootout with a vicious pimp. The escalating battle leaves a trail of cadavers, car wrecks and shattered children as Joey looks helplessly on.

Even when a drive-by gunman leaves Denny’s own toddler gashed and comatose, it’s Joey that’s left to stand by the mother at the hospital bedside while the stricken child’s father pursues his relentless vendetta. The two cops get so caught up in their private carnage that they miss a chance to save a teenage victim from a psychotic serial killer.

That gets them suspended from the force. At least one of them will have to take the fall. But such is their lifelong bond that neither one can let go of the other. And, still the rain will not let up – neither the unrelenting drip of Chicago’s dismal climate nor the “steady rain” of bad micro-choices that add up to such a macro-catastrophe.      

Talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder! These losers could teach even Vancouverites a thing or two. But, amidst all the tragedy there’s a leavening of hard-bitten noir humour and even a "happy ending" of sorts. And the two actors – neither of whom ever leave the stage, even during each other’s soliloquies – perfectly capture their characters’ voices and body language.

Well, they’re pitch perfect, if not letter perfect. They brilliantly catch the cadences of the squad car, the precinct and the street, but their phonemes somehow sound more South Boston than Chicago. But never mind; the drama, after all, is about Everycop in Anytown.

With such an experienced, talented and limited cast, director Bill Devine – a 25-year veteran of Vancouver’s Sea Theatre company, now (by his own admission) “nearing retirement age” – was seasoned enough to mostly stand back and let his actors find their own way. Kurt Schindelka provides discreet, bluesy piano accompaniment from behind a black screen, stage left.

And on the opposite side of the black box, stage manager Susan Currie runs a light board from inside the kitchen where once the Fillipone family chefs cooked up after-theatre pasta suppers for the likes of Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Junior, and Louis Armstrong on their north-of-the-border swings.

Don’t count on any ghost-sightings in A Steady Rain at the Penthouse Studio theatre, but do take in this haunting production just for its superb writing and acting.

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