Two superb actors stand in for the proverbial “cast of thousands” to make for as thrillingly visual a ninety minutes of edge-of-your-seat theater as you’d get in any big-screen blockbuster, as the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble presents the Los Angeles Premiere of Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain under Jeff Perry’s electric direction.

Rain3 Thomas Vincent Kelly and Sal Viscuso star as Chicago cops (and longtime best friends) Joey and Denny, whose careers—and friendship—are put to the test when Denny decides to take the law into his own hands.

Playwright Huff (whose The Bird And Mr. Banks and Pursued By Happiness were Road Theatre hits a few years back) describes A Steady Rain as a “duologue,” one which has Joey and Denny alternating occasionally contradictory he said/he said recollections of a series of events that put both their jobs and their friendship at stake, dueling monologs interrupted by conversational exchanges, a structure that might not work in less competent hands, but does so to perfection with Huff penning the script and Kelly and Viscuso centerstage.

It becomes clear fairly early on that though best buddies since kindergarten, Irish-American Joey and Italian-American Denny could hardly be more dissimilar.

A Steady Rain_4 Whereas Denny rails about a quota system that has led to less experienced minority cops getting promoted over him and his friend, Joey coaches Denny on the p.c. lexicon he’s been learning in sensitivity training classes. Unlike Joey’s black-and-white, by-the-book way of thinking, Denny has no problem bending the law if it means putting family first. And while for Denny family means wife Connie, kids Noel and Stewie, and pet pooch Heinz, Joey’s only real family seems to be Denny’s, a fact made amply clear by his nightly dinners at his best friend’s place.

Then comes the night when a brick hurled through Denny’s window sets in motion a chain of events that will put the two men’s jobs, their friendship, and even their lives on the line.

If ever there was a play and production to make abundantly clear the magical power of live theater, A Steady Rain is that play and this latest from the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble that production.

With Adam Flemming’s striking projections providing an atmospheric backdrop throughout, Joey and Denny’s words create the same vivid imagery that would cost Hollywood millions upon millions to put on the screen, with the added benefit of letting two superb actors hold an audience in the palms of their hands for A Steady Rain’s uninterrupted ninety minutes.

A Steady Rain_1 Though it’s a stretch to believe that Kelly and Viscuso could have been in kindergarten the same year … or even decade, the two stage and screen vets give the kind of intense, visceral performances that win awards.

Flemming’s set design is simple but dramatic, allowing the recent LADCC Award winner’s projections to take us from locale to locale as seen through the lenses of Joey and Denny’s memories. Michael Gend’s striking lighting design and John Zalewski’s atmospheric sound design add to the excitement, with costume designer Rachel Clinkscales giving each actor just the right outfit to wear.

A Steady Rain is produced by Beth Hogan. Jennifer Palumbo is stage manager. Deidra Edwards is assistant director.

Broadway buffs will recall that superstars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman played Joey and Denny on Broadway back in 2009. Though Kelly and Viscuso may not have the same “name value” as James Bond and Wolverine, each has theatrical and Hollywood credits a mile long. And no wonder. There aren’t two more dynamic actors around town, and you won’t be seeing more thrilling performances than Kelly’s and Viscuso’s any time soon.

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 27, 2014
Photos: Enci

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