Betrayal, friendship and A Steady Rain

John Ullyatt and Jesse Gervais in A Steady Rain. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

John Ullyatt and Jesse Gervais in A Steady Rain. Photo credit: Mat Simpson

Blarney Production’s season closer, A Steady Rain, is being described as a “bad cop/bad cop” show. But at its heart, the show isn’t about understanding the law. Actors Jesse Gervais and John Ullyatt say it’s about, “Betrayal. And friendship.”

A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff, is the story of Joey and Denny, two police partners and lifelong friends in Chicago, whose incorrect assessment of a situation they respond to gets tied in with their response to an attack on Denny’s family and they have come before a judicial review board to explain what went wrong. Mostly, the story is told through each character’s direct address monologue, with a few scenes where the two are together, portraying the events, or their (sometimes differing) versions of them. Jesse Gervais, who plays Joey, says, “We get to watch these two gentlemen tell the same story, but from different perspectives. It’s exciting to see how each of them filters these same series of events. And you as the audience get to see where the holes are as it all unravels.”

Jesse describes his character, Joey, as, “Denny’s best friend and partner – Joey has always been his second. Always takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ because he’s afraid that if he complains then Denny won’t be his friend anymore and that kind of frames their weird relationship. They have that dynamic all the way from childhood to adulthood… Joey is a single recovering alcoholic, and he’s trying to make good by following the rules as best he can when it’s difficult because his partner doesn’t play by the rules… The rules of society, of his job, the law, and so Joey does a lot of damage control.”

Opposite Jesse is John Ullyatt in the role of Denny. “He’s kind of the top dog in the dynamic duo. Since they were kids in kindergarten he used to beat Joey up just to make a man out of him. Denny is married with two kids, but he also has a trap line and has been shaking down prostitutes and taverns for protection money. So, he’s got a lot of money in the house and a lot of TVs and he’s been lording that over Joey all these years and things [between the two] kind of switch over time… To Denny, the law is kind of grey. [He’ll do it] if there’s a better way to achieve a certain end… Ultimately it comes doesn’t to the frailty of the human condition. No one’s perfect and even the best cops in the world aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes, and sometimes they’re just really, really bad.”

In Keith Huff’s script, that really, really bad mistake that Joey and Denny make bears an eerie similarity to American officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish, who were negligent and inadvertently returned Konerak Sinthasomphone to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. A Steady Rain has no excuses but instead provides a look at Joey and Denny’s circumstances surrounding the mistake they made.

It’s a play that is particularly relevant in the wake of the attention being brought to the actions of American police in the past several years. Previously presented in Chicago and New York, Jesse and John commented that A Steady Rain will resonate a lot differently with Canadian audiences than it does with American. Jesse says, “The people that have seen the show in New York, this is the world they’re living in. We’re here in Edmonton and the idea of the Chicago cops and having this rough beat cop life – it’s totally foreign to us. We’re telling an exotic story, which will have a different resonance here than if it was in Chicago or New York. I think it might be more compelling here.”

John adds, “There are going to be things in the story that as they listen the audience will be like, ‘You’re kidding me. Why? You’re kidding me, right? This is what they did?… There are actually police officers like this?’ These particular guys, I think they’re victims of circumstance, of where they grew up, and God only knows we could apply this to what’s happening with the police service in the United States at this very minute. So I think that’s very applicable, [A Steady Rain] humanizes them – it doesn’t excuse their behaviour – but they grew up in a war zone. And I don’t think they think they’re bad. It’s all relative. In the situation they’re in, they’re making the best of what they’ve got.”

The play gives the audience that insight into the humanity of the two characters by being presented mainly as separate monologues by each of the characters. In the intimate space of C103, the production puts the audience in many different roles as Joey and Denny appeal directly to them. Jesse explains, “The audience is constantly changing – they’re our confidants, they’re someone we have to be formal with, they’re our best friends, they’re the guy that you’re joshing around with in the locker room. That allows you to have the dynamics to make the story interesting.”

John adds, “[C103 is] such an intimate space, we don’t have to push it out to the back of the house, I can’t wait to do this for a crowd of people who are just right there with us. Because for so much of this play, I feel like we’re defending ourselves and our actions and going, ‘What would you do?’ ”

A Steady Rain plays at C103 May 28 – June 7. Tickets are available for $15 – $20 through Tix on the Square and at the door.

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