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Theater Mon Jul 09 2012

A Steady Rain: Award-Winning Cop Drama Returns to Chicago

A Steady Rain_2.jpg

A Steady Rain; from l to r: Randy Steinmeyer and Peter DeFaria.

There is certainly no shortage of "cop dramas" in pop culture; with typical stories of the antithetical veteran/rookie or rogue/"by the book" police officers, it is easy to feel as though you've seen and heard it all before. In Keith Huff's award-winning play, A Steady Rain, starring Peter DeFaria and Randy Steinmeyer, the story goes much deeper, provoking thoughts and questions that go beyond the badge; recently, I sat down with the two Chicago actors to discuss the play's Chicago return and just why it is more than your garden variety story about cops.

This run marks the return of A Steady Rain - how does it feel to be back?

Steinmeyer: It actually feels pretty exciting. We were both a little nervous coming in I think, but it's kind of like hopping back on a bicycle. We have the original cast and crew, the same director, and we've got a lot of the same designers back, but we have a new costume designer and a new stage manager. But it's basically the original cast and crew. It's exciting to be back.

DeFaria: We have a lot more perspective on things now. When we did this originally, we were just trying to put it on a stage; now, we've got four years for it to kind of gestate. I don't know about Randy, but I know that when we did the last performance, we walked offstage and I still kept thinking about the play--it's just one of those kind of plays. We've been sitting on it for four years and now we have this opportunity again. It feels like a lot of responsibility.

The story is about the brotherhood between two police officers and how that bond is tested due to the aftermath of a domestic disturbance call. Talk about this as it relates to your characters and their partnership.

Steinmeyer: These guys literally grew up together. They've known each other since kindergarten and it's carried over all these many years. Joey has become part of Denny's family so they've kind of taken him in and he spends a lot of time with him, so they are truly brothers in the truer since of the word, even though they're not related by blood. But then, something happens and it kind of rips it all in half and destroys the lifelong bond and takes on a Shakespearean tragedy [in] scope. You watch these guys who have loved each other all their lives get to a point where they don't get along so well. There's betrayal. It really gets pretty ugly.

Your characters, Denny and Joey, are Chicago police officers--what do you think it is about the culture of Chicago or its policemen, as opposed to, say, NYPD, LAPD, or any other major urban metropolis, that makes for such an interesting story?

DeFaria: I think people in Chicago value things like loyalty--it's a values thing and in Chicago, we hold these things really dear. We might complain about it amongst ourselves, but we defend the city to [people from] Los Angeles, New York or wherever.

Steinmeyer: And that includes loyalty to your job and loyalty to your union; as a public servant in Chicago, you have loyalty to where your bread and butter come from. You may question it and rag about it on a daily basis, but you're loyal to it.

Would you say the city is the third star of this play?

Steinmeyer: We reference a lot of this city in this play; it's maybe not the third star but it's definitely a major character. It's interesting because the seed of the story actually started in Milwaukee--there is an event in the play that actually occurred in Milwaukee. The playwright is from Chicago--his father-in-law used to be a commander in Beverly and his brother-in-law is a policeman, so he knows that road really well. He saw this article in the New York Times about this particular incident that happened to some Milwaukee policemen that spurred his imagination. He wrote this play around that singular incident but he made it about so much more.

DeFaria: It was inspired by it--it wasn't "that" incident--a lot of people make the mistake when they come see this play.

Do you think this story would've worked or had the same effect if another major city served as the backdrop?

Steinmeyer: Probably. I'm not sure it would have the heft or the gravity that it does.

DeFaria: I don't know. It's very Chicago and it's that attitude. We're people who are proud to be loyal to something, even if that thing is not paying off for them. It's about that grounded loyalty.

If someone ran across a general description of A Steady Rain and said, "Oh--another "buddy cop" story, how would you respond?

DeFaria: It's a cop buddy story, but it's real though. It's not a "cops-who-are-two-days-from- retirement" story. It's grounded in reality. They're regular guys. They're not superheroes.

Steinmeyer: It goes so far beyond that and I think that's probably the difference. It does have incidences or set pieces that are Hollywood-esque but they were snatched from the news--so it gives those incidences that much more weight because it is about these guys who are pretty normal.

The play fearlessly confronts those "keep it in the family" issues that are often associated with policemen: closeted alcoholism, marital infidelity, harassment, racism--what are your thoughts where this is concerned?

Steinmeyer: Yes, there's some racism and some alcoholism...

DeFaria: ...just another day in Chicago, really. It's life in the big city.

Steinmeyer: But it introduces a lot of things and goes into depth about a quite a few of them as well. And it does so with a smile and a shiv--it runs the whole spectrum. I mean, there are some racist elements to this play but that shouldn't scare folks away--especially in this city.

For those who are apprehensive about interacting with police officers in general, would you say there's anything redeeming about Joey or Denny that might change their mind?

Steinmeyer: I think that's probably the biggest misnomer is that people view the police force in whatever city they're in as the enemy or the savior, instead of just seeing them as regular people with tough jobs.

DeFaria: With tough jobs--with not very popular jobs.

So the play does show them in a different light or in a way that isn't often shown?

Steinmeyer: It humanizes them. That's something we don't see on TV and in film. Cops aren't regularly humanized; I mean, I guess they are in some stories but mostly they're either made to be superheroes or they're made to be the enemy. I don't think it's ever that clear cut but I think one of the strengths of this play is not only the ambiguity of what occurs but also the ambiguity about these people. Nobody's ever strictly good or strictly bad. Life is not that way--it's a lot more complex than that.

DeFaria: I think people miss the mark sometimes--I've read that this play is "good cop, bad cop" which is so not what this is about at all.

What's it like working with Keith Huff and director Russ Tutterow?

Steinmeyer: Keith writes with this really muscular style; he's just a smart, sweet guy, and yet he still writes with this sort of ballsy, muscular style. He really has written "people"--these full, dimensional characters that are not in any way stereotypes. And Russ understands this world so well--he understands plays so well--like nobody I've ever met in my life. He's a playwright's best friend; not only is he a really wonderful director, he's also the perfect dramaturg.

What, if anything, would you like to see audiences take away from this play?

Steinmeyer: I think what I would like people to take away is that loyalty to our friends and our family is something that should never be messed with--it should never be minimalized--we should always keep that somewhere. It's just such an important thing that most people take for granted. We want people to be touched by this story just as much as we're touched by it.

DeFaria: I want them to take away having love of family--and forgiveness--to forgive yourself and to forgive others. This play is human--that's what I want people to take from this.


Catch the limited run of A Steady Rain now through Sunday, September 2 at the Chicago Dramatists Theater, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $40-$45; show days and times vary. For more information, call 800-595-4849.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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