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By Dana Casadei
At Saturday night’s performance of “A Steady Rain,” artistic director Shawn Handlon, a Planet Ant home team member, mentioned that the theater has metro Detroit’s longest running improv comedy show. The theater also has a tendency to produce shows that are constantly funny and sometimes a little out there. The theater’s season ender is about as far away from improv comedy as a show can get, and it makes for an evening of impressive dramatic theater.
“A Steady Rain” also marks the return of two of Planet Ant’s founding members, Ryan Carlson who plays Joey and the show’s director York Griffith. Both have served as artistic directors for the theater, and each has earned kudos for their work there. The show’s trio rounds out with Andrew Huff, a graduate of Wayne State University’s Hilberry graduate program and another familiar face to regular Ant patrons, who plays Denny.
The play follows two Chicago beat cops, Joey and Denny, who have been friends since kindergarten. When Joey started hitting the bottle rather hard, Denny brought him back to sobriety, and Joey has become an addition to Denny’s family. Act I gives the audience a pretty clear view of who these two men are and a slight indication of the paths they are about to descend down. Both have racism issues, but Joey is trying to change, while Denny is rather set in his ways and has a colorful language with constant racist remarks to prove it. Denny is also a bit of a hothead, even though he would do literally anything for his family, while Joey is single and would do anything for his friend.
Act II takes a much darker turn after a routine disturbance call changes their lives. Their loyalty is then tested through affairs, violence and the aftermath of the disturbance call.
Keith Huff, a writer for “Mad Men” and “House of Cards” among other things, has created a script that constantly goes back and forth between separate monologues and present-moment dialogue scenes. Stage manager Matt Lira dims the lights, the two chairs on stage get moved, and we’re inside the story Joey and Denny were just discussing, reliving them as they happened. The script is rather dark, but it’s much more than that: It’s gritty, raw and compelling to watch unfold.
Each of the actors has quite a few monologues, which could get dull in the wrong hands. But both Carlson and Andy Huff have the stage presence and delivery to make each new moment as riveting as the last. Denny’s journey down a slippery slope is rather distressing to watch, but Andy Huff pulls the transformation off with ease. Carlson is no slouch either; Joey’s realization of whom he truly loves is a wrenching moment to watch, but the confidence he gains throughout the show lets Carlson show off how wide his acting range is.
Griffith’s direction has the duo working the entire stage. Every movement, from moving props to when they are simply walking, is intensely paced. Watching the stories unfold in this deliberate manner makes them even more fascinating to watch.
Planet Ant has been producing excellent dramas the last few seasons, and “A Steady Rain” continues the streak. Even though the theater produces more comedies than dramas, it may be time to start expanding into a more balanced season, with an equal amount of comedies and dramas.
‘A Steady Rain’
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through May 24, with 3 p.m. matinees Sunday, May 11 & 18. 1 hour, 40 minutes. $10-20. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com