An action-packed police drama may be the least obvious brand of fiction to see played out on a small stage by two actors.
Novels and films of that genre tend to be scenically dependent, or at least highly visual. The violence is graphic. The gritty characters — cops, pimps, prostitutes, killers — are colorful, to say the least. Car chases extend noisily across shadowy urban landscapes. Atmosphere is everything.
You can bet if a film director were shooting a script called “A Steady Rain,” now running on Theatre Memphis’ Next Stage, there would be a scene in which the two principal cops — former friends, now adversaries — confront each other while getting soaked to the bone in a driving downpour.
You won’t see buckets of water at Theatre Memphis. No car chases, no gory violence, no bullets flying through windows.
You won’t see it — but it’s all there in this fast-paced, detail-packed script by Keith Huff that unravels on a nearly bare stage.
Actors John Maness (as Joey) and John Moore (as Denny), each sitting in a single chair and facing the audience, play a couple of Chicago patrol officers presenting two sides of a circuitous tale. Switch-hitting the narrative and occasionally contradicting each other, they reveal a loyal friendship put to the test. Joey struggles with a drinking problem and loneliness. Denny’s explosive anger keeps him in trouble with his bosses. He occasionally unleashes that anger on his wife.
But while Joey seems to be changing his life for the better, Denny is sinking deeper into immorality and dragging Joey down with him.
Maness and Moore may not make the most convincing hard-boiled lawmen, but they keep the dialogue brisk. From the start, Maness’ Joey is submissive and careworn. His hands are never still. He’s a walking apology. Moore strikes a dominant and sinister pose, playing a bully with a misdirected sense of justice.
These seasoned actors are good casting choices by director Jerry Chipman. Eric Sefton’s sound design creates a lovely cinematic sweep that augments the storytellers’ recollections. A steady rain does indeed beat down overhead, sometimes heavily, sometimes anxiously. Well-timed gunshots crack eerily in the distance, or surprisingly close.
As intricate as Huff’s narrative is, however, it periodically meanders. New chapters begin at times when you think the tale is wrapping up. To these ears, the script lacks an establishing shot early on that foreshadows the climax — a moment when these old buddies realize they’ve spiraled off into different worlds.
Without a sense of where it’s headed, the story sometimes feels like the journey of a raindrop that doesn’t know when or where it’s going to land.
Still, for folks who enjoy tales from the annals of policing — fraught with action, angst and introspection -- “A Steady Rain” uses a torrent of words and sounds to create a dark landscape in the imagination.
‘A Steady Rain’
Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 3 at Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Ext. Tickets are $23 adults, $15 students. Call 901-682-8323.