Star power elevates melodramatic "Steady Rain"

Wed Sep 30, 2009 3:59am EDT
 
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A Steady Rain

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman provide a textbook lesson in how movie-star charisma can elevate mediocre material in "A Steady Rain," this fall's hottest Broadway ticket.

Keith Huff's two-hander about a pair of hard-boiled Chicago cops might become increasingly melodramatic and ridiculous, but the two stars are so compelling onstage that the audience happily goes along for the ride.

Generating the sort of star-wattage heat that has lately made straight plays on Broadway commercially viable, Craig and Jackman respectively play Joey and Denny, longtime partners and best friends for whom greetings like "you Irish tampon" are signs of affection. Denny is married with children, and frequently has Joey over for dinner to provide his lonely partner with some sense of family. As we quickly learn, both men are deeply troubled. Joey has a serious drinking problem and harbors a secret love for his partner's spouse, and Denny falls into both professional and marital difficulties because of his barely disguised racism and inability to refrain from cheating on his wife.

Alternately addressing each other and the audience, the men spin a harrowing tale that ultimately comes to involve a vengeful pimp, a cannibalistic serial killer, the near-death of Denny's young son, adultery and myriad other plot elements.

It all comes across like an elongated pitch meeting for an over caffeinated buddy-cop movie that might be directed by Sidney Lumet or Martin Scorsese. That the play works to the extent it does is a testament to the actors.

Jackman, in his first New York stage appearance since his very different turn as Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz," is in full macho-bluster mode and is hugely entertaining.

Craig is even more of a revelation. The British actor tends to be a bit recessive in his film roles (his James Bond, to my mind, is a stiff). But here, making his American stage debut, he delivers a highly convincing, engaging turn, complete with a terrific Chicago accent, which works beautifully. The two actors display a terrific chemistry together that should well translate to the inevitable screen version.

Director John Crowley's ("The Pillowman") staging is minimal but effective, using music and sound effects and looming backdrops of forbidding urban landscapes to provide a suitably ominous atmosphere.