Keith Huff’s play ‘A Steady Rain’ packs quite a punch. It is an artful exercise in turning monologues into dialogue. The play’s tandem narratives and perspectives of our protagonists, two boyhood friends Denny and Joey and now Chicago cops, centre around their attempts to find belonging, security, define themselves as providers and men in a world of violence, crime and corruption. The play is a great choice for any company with a hankering to explore edgy, morally ambiguous, well- written plays and I can see why Cathode Ray Tube wanted to tackle it. It’s a good fit for this company and the Tap Gallery.
This is a new experience for Cathode Ray Tube- not only performing work scripted outside of the company's own writing but also employing the services of a director. But for a company not used to working with a director, I’m not convinced they took full advantage of Owen Trevor’s creative services. Maybe it’s that Trevor has no theatre directorial experience and didn’t assert enough control of his lead Michael Booth or doesn’t understand that the subtlety of the screen doesn’t always transfer on to the stage. But really, if there is a gap in accessing the full potency of the play, it lies in Booth.
Booth, one of the founders of Cathode Ray Tube, struggled on the opening night of the play to hit the big moments of his character, Denny. It might have been his issue of trying to remember lines and missing chunks of dialogue but sometimes I feel like Booth’s need to try to underplay every moment jars like an actor whose confidence/arrogance overrides the needs of the character. The effect of this is twofold: firstly the stakes for the character are always lowered and tension is abated. Secondly, it so clearly resonates to the audience that you don’t care about them. This play is all about you.
There are times this style works well in expressing Denny’s sarcasm, his moral superiority in the minefield of his moral bankruptcy or his undercutting of partner Joey’s feelings. But to so steadfastly play it all in this style was a poor judgement from my point of view. I can understand why Booth was attracted to Denny. Denny likes to do things his own way, regardless of the consequences and so there are moments he perfectly captures the essence of the character but it felt like a lazy interpretation. There’s little to risk in playing it so flat-lined.
Contrast this to the only other actor on stage, Sam O’Sullivan (Joey). O’Sullivan was terrific. His portrayal captured the complexity of his character’s inner conflict, his desires, the tensions that drive him into action or oblivion. His dimensions were gently manipulated to present a character with integrity and belief. It is O’Sullivan that makes this show succeed.
There are a few technical issues that plague this production. The lighting stakes seem confused. Victor Areces was a bit all over the shop on the night and the soundtrack loop, designed by Brendan Woithe, was disjointed in its playing on stage. The moments of silence before the loop would restart often came at critical moments and the interruption of forced sound negated some of the tension happening on stage because of these timing issues.
There are good solid workable things about Cathode Ray Tube’s production of ‘A Steady Rain’ that make it enjoyable but the company does feel like it’s led by people who have little experience in theatre, except what they produce themselves. It is most successful when they bring actors and artists in with training and broad experiences in the live theatrical form. But unless they are prepared to expose themselves to less indulgent choices and expand their company’s experience in theatre, Cathode Ray Tube may never achieve the ‘spontaneity of the moment without behavioural affection’ of their mission statement.