Good cop. Bad cop.
It’s a formula so mainstream that it was the basis of a character in the ‘The LEGO Movie,’ where Liam Neeson voiced the dual-personalities of a tiny plastic policeman, named Good Cop-Bad Cop, who was literally two-faced, depending on the situation. Even when kind of disturbing, he was kind of adorable.
There is nothing the least bit adorable—but plenty that is disturbing, unsettling, compelling, and creepy—about Keith Huff’s two-character play ‘A Steady Rain,’ running through February 6 at Wells Fargo Center. Presented by Left Edge Theatre, directed with sharp focus and appealing simplicity by Argo Thompson, the propulsive crime drama takes the corny old clichés about good cops and bad cops, and after gleefully indulging in them to a nearly shameless degree, aggressively and thrillingly disassembles those icons of police force pulp-fiction piece by piece.
Using minimal furniture on an entirely bare stage, Nick Sholley and Mike Schaeffer play two low-level beat cops—lifelong friends, career partners, and frustrated veterans of the force who’ve watched dozens of others be promoted ahead of them, leaving them to patrol the seedy streets of Chicago with little hope of ever landing a better, less dangerous job.
We soon learn why.
Joey, played with a weary, tentative sense of collapsing moral decency by Sholley, is the ‘good cop,’ tall, thin and unmarried, always appearing in a suit and tie, rattling off a series of ah-shucks rationalizations, just tenuously on-the-wagon after years attempting to medicate his own loneliness, depression and guilt with alcohol. Schaeffer, as Denny, the ‘bad cop,’ is, on the surface anyway, the exact opposite of his partner. Big and broad, a bit of a bully, proudly racist and perfectly comfortable with beating up drug dealers, accepting bribes and pay-offs from pimps and prostitutes, all while maintaining his firm belief that he is the good guy, the moral superior to the scum and low-lifes he clearly enjoys pushing around. A fiercely protective husband and father—perhaps not quite as committed or faithful as he wants to believe—Denny constantly pushes Joey to find a woman and start a family of his own.
Then it starts to rain.
And little by little, over the course of a few days, everything Joey and Denny have been building, working for and lying about begins to unravel, beginning with a drive-by shooting that leaves Denny’s son in a coma.
What unfolds, not surprisingly given the playwright’s pedigree as a writer for such shows as ‘American Crime,’ ‘Mad Men,’ and ‘House of Cards,’ is at turns frighteningly funny, edge-of-your-seat tense, and increasingly packed with surprises. Choosing to trust the talents of his magnificent duo of actors, director Thompson avoids cluttering the action with extraneous embellishments. Beyond an atmospheric soundscape of rain, thunder and the occasional car crash or gun shot, Thompson makes the most of the two chairs and single wooden table that act as a set, letting the story, and power of the performances, carry the show.
The writing is superb, crammed with great lines and complex, sometimes astonishing truths, and the story is, in the end, so much more than the simple good-and-bad dynamic is initially appears to be.
By the time the downpour ends, and the thunder stops rumbling, ‘A Steady Rain’ takes its audience on one hell of a ride-along, one sensitive souls might want to miss, but all others will be very glad they took.
‘A Steady Rain’ runs Friday through Sunday through February 6 in the Carston Cabaret at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Information can be uncovered at www.leftedgetheatre.org.