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September 30, 2009

A Steady Rain

by Jesse North

Welcome back, Stage Rushers! A new Broadway season has begun, and I don’t know about you, but I feel absolutely overwhelmed by all the shows that I want to see. So let’s start off the 2009/10 season with a bang.

I was terrified to rush A Steady Rain. I couldn’t even fathom the masses that would flock to a production starring the men that brought the Drover and Tuvia Bielski to life on the big screen. (Sigh) Ok, fine—Wolverine and James Bond! This play starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig stands as one of the starriest marquees in recent memory. Sure, there’s been Julia Roberts, Geoffrey Rush, and Jane Fonda in recent years, but both of these actors in one play is huge. The last films in their respective franchises each earned over $150 million domestically, and they also share critical adoration. Their appearance in a 1,071-seat theater is something of an event, to say the least.

In preparation of my plans to rush the show last Friday while it was still in previews (it opened last night), I decided to swing by the Shoenfeld Theatre the day before on my way to work to scope out the rush crowd. I was trying to gauge what time I should arrive at the theater the next morning. Times that were running through my head were 7, even 6 a.m. But to my great surprise, at 9:35 a.m., there were only eight people in the rush line for A Steady Rain. I didn’t know how it was possible, but I ditched my next-day plans and got in line right away. There’s no time like the present, right?

Thus began one of the easiest rushes I’ve ever done, and for one of the most buzzed-about productions I’ve ever seen. A half hour waiting in the warm September air and I had a ticket to the performance for $31.50. As I’ve expressed before, I think any increase from the standard student price of $26.50 is petty, but when this ticket is to watch Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig perform live, I think anyone would fork up the extra dollars. Additionally, up to two tickets can be bought with each ID, which is generous considering the demand for this show. Wristbands with the place number you held in line were distributed prior to the box office opening, as is done next door at the Booth for Next to Normal. While at the box office window though, something was done that I’ve never experienced before, nor do I really see the point to. You pay for your ticket and you receive a receipt only, no ticket. You’re supposed to go to the will call window 30 minutes prior to the curtain and then receive your ticket. I suppose management doesn’t want empty seats in the house, so if you decide you don’t want to see Wolverine and James Bond duke it out onstage, they can give your tickets a last-minute sell to desperate theater-goers who do.

My seat was in the last row of the mezzanine, on the aisle. So with this rush, you’re not getting any special seating like at Next to Normal, but I can’t say I was surprised or offended. I could see just fine. An interesting note about the moments just before the curtain rose: ushers were instructing the audience more than ever to turn off their phones. But they weren’t just directing, they were nearly pleading with people to power off their devices. One forceful usher even said to an entire block of people, “You have no idea what we’ve been through already.” Luckily, this performance went on without any interruptions. But then this video surfaced a couple days later; a video of the performance the night before the one I attended [embedded below]. In it, Hugh Jackman pulls a Patti LuPone and halts the performance to melt the owner of a ringing cell phone in his seat. The video is excruciating to watch and really makes you think that the theater community has a real problem on its hands. But come on; are these really the guys you want to be making angry? I certainly turned my cell phone off.

A Steady Rain sets Jackman and Craig in Chicago playing cops (Denny and Joey, respectively) who have grown up together and consider themselves brothers. Director John Crowley sets up the two-person show in interrogation-room style. Jackman and Craig recount their stories as if the audience members are their interrogating officers, switching off between long monologue and brief dialogue. The casting of the two Hollywood heavyweights is interesting, in that Keith Huff’s play is so humble. These two cops simply spend 90 minutes recounting a period of a few days in their careers that changed their lives in an almost nonexistent set. They don’t really show you, like most plays would; they just tell you. But don’t let this turn you off; mere storytelling is only a snooze if it’s bad.

Jackman oozes his quintessential Hugh charm as Denny. It’s difficult not to pay attention when he leans into the audience and he hits his humorous and dramatic marks easily. His Chicago accent makes you forget there’s an Aussie living inside there. Craig’s accent, however, makes you even forget there’s Craig inside there. The Brit has locked away not only his English accent, but also his low, gravely voice to yield to a higher pitched, nasally, almost nerdy vocal. Armed also with a 70s porn ‘stache, Craig has completely transformed and, if it must be said, beats out his partner’s performance by a few hairs. His Joey excellently moves from planes of insecurity, protectiveness, and horror. Craig covers all his bases with incredible ease. Furthermore, for a play that has the two characters engaging so much with just the audience, the two actors still have superb chemistry with each other and prove to us the fraternal bond their characters share.

I won’t reveal the details of these cops’ story, only because it’s so bare bones, there wouldn’t be much left to discover. It involves trying, split-second decisions on the job, the natural instinct to protect family, and how these actions weave into their own character flaws. The story is no groundbreaking work—we’ve seen the tribulations of cops many times before—nor does it unload any revelation at the end other than ‘Yep, being a cop is damn tough.’ But the storytelling is excellent and it says a lot when an entire theater gasps in unison twice during a performance. Realizing that you’re sharing in the same shock as the rest of the audience is, actually, quite a moment.

Some people who see A Steady Rain might complain that they wanted to see Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig do more. Maybe jump down a flight of stairs, lead a chorus line, or at least fall through a trap door. But there are DVDs to satisfy those needs. What this production provides is truly special: two fantastic, internationally known actors staring into the eyes of the audience for 90 minutes and engaging in intense, wonderful storytelling. James who?

Play: B+ / Rush: B

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