10/06/2009 11:31 PM | By AP
Superheroes can do just about anything on screen, courtesy of the special effects department.
But put them on stage and their dependency on a solid script becomes more apparent. A case in point: Daniel Craig, filmdom's current James Bond, and Hugh Jackman, the movies' Wolverine, go up against a minor, melodramatic little play called A Steady Rain by Keith Huff.
And while both men, particularly Craig, acquit themselves well, they can't turn the 90-minute evening into anything more than a chance to see two big-time movie stars emoting up close in a pulpy, plot-heavy entertainment.
A Steady Rain, which opened last Tuesday at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, is what used to be called "a vehicle", an opportunity to showcase two actors with considerable ticket-selling ability. Here, we get to see them impersonate tough, blue-collar Chicago cops, no less.
For Jackman, that means playing a role light years away from his Tony-winning performance as hip-swivelling entertainer Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. In Rain, he's portraying Denny, an emotionally erratic, foul-mouthed policeman, who has managed to acquire a wife and children and the loyalty of Joey (Craig), a good friend and fellow officer.
Jackman works against his immense likability to invest Denny with an unnerving volatility, an underlying malevolence that threatens to erupt at anytime - and does - in Huff's incident-stuffed play.
Craig's Joey, a recovering alcoholic, is a more-shaded character, and the actor leaves 007 far behind. Sporting a moustache and wearing a nondescript coat and tie, he brings an affecting, world-weary, defeated-by-life quality to the man. He looks perpetually tired. Yet there is an underlying goodness that Craig manages to project without being maudlin or sentimental.
Craig also nails a Chicago accent, giving a credible impersonation of a man who has never left the Midwest. Jackson's accent, on the other hand, occasionally becomes more Outback than Uptown, an area of Chicago where the play's most pivotal episode takes place. But then he screams a lot on stage and with those shouts comes a return to his Australian roots.
One problem with A Steady Rain is its overload of stories that could probably fill several episodes of television's Law & Order. The play is studded with a parade of tales, domestic turmoil involving Denny's family as well as what happens when the two men are on patrol. One story, in particular, is lifted from the real-life crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer but transferred to Chicago rather than Dahmer's Milwaukee.
Events are discussed by the two policemen, who sit and occasionally walk around a nearly bare stage while talking directly to the audience or to each other. Director John Crowley minimises the static quality of the script by these interactions, which provide the evening with a few shards of theatricality.
The play is literally awash in symbolism. For one thing, that rain in the title just won't quit. It's something the two policemen keep mentioning throughout the evening, giving a kind of apocalyptical menace to the spasms of violence that pepper the plot.
A Steady Rain met with considerable success in Chicago where it was first produced (with different actors) at a small theatre called Chicago Dramatists. Broadway and its high-powered stars, not to mention a much larger theatre, may have inflated expectations, especially for those who want more than a little face time with two genuine movie stars.