Updated: October 16, 2013 at 4:14 pm
Two men. Two chairs. One demanding play.
Springs Ensemble Theatre's production, directed by David Plambeck, takes on the two-man play "A Steady Rain" with white knuckle focus that will, at times, leave you breathless.
In a play that hops and skips through time, two Chicago cops - Denny (Steve Emily) and Joey (Matt Radcliffe) - have faced the world together since childhood. But from the moment the lights come up on June Scott Barfield's deliciously stark set, you know something is coming. Something bad. Something that could bring down one of the men seated before you. And you'll spend nearly all of the 90-minute play finding out what.
As Denny, Emily is a bulldozer of a man, who is equally capable of shaking down hookers on his beat every week as offering to send one to secretarial school or fix her up with his single partner. He's a bigot, sure, and reckless, yes, but at the center of his world is his family and his friend. At least that's what he says.
Emily's brute is sad, kind and ugly, a monster and a simple man whose world is slipping through his fingers. I marveled throughout at Emily's ability to bring both to the show as well as his skill as shifting - sometimes in mid-sentence - from one Denny to the other. His delivery of the Mamet-esque dialogue - telegraphic and hard edged - was right on the money.
Radcliffe's character is harder to pin down. Joey is Denny's perennial reluctant accomplice, a former alcoholic trying to piece together a semblance of a life - largely through Denny and his family. A man who understand consequences, he's nevertheless drawn into Denny's brutal, crazy descent.
Radcliffe focuses Joey like a laser, easily standing up to Emily's seismic presence. (Radcliffe's jaw muscles must be screaming after every show from the nearly constant clenching and unclenching.) But on opening night, his character was blurred compared to Emily's etched-with-lighting portrayal of Denny. And Radcliffe's shifts from rage to stoicism to exasperattion to tenderness often appeared forced.
Besides a curiously late start time - about 15 minutes late - my only nit is the rain sound effect. The intense downward spiral of the play is marked by constant rain and sound designer Mara Baker delivers ... well, what sounds like water cascading from a shower head. With so many sound effect discs in the world, it would have made some sense to use one that better telegraphed the bleak hopelessness the rain was designed to convey.
"A STEADY RAIN"
Presented by Springs Ensemble Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays,4 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27, through Oct. 27, Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre St., $15, $10 student rush tickets available five minutes before the show; 357-3080, springsensembletheatre.org.