'They want heroes, Joey," says Denny, the hothead Chicago cop, to his quietly desperate partner. "Superhuman, that's what they want us to be."
There are no heroes, nothing more superhuman than big-fisted talent in "A Steady Rain," Keith Huff's dark, moody, small but brutal 90-minute duet that pairs action-film icons Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in Broadway's hot-ticket event of the fall season.
Do not expect a chase scene about good and evil with Australia's Wolverine and England's James Bond. Rather, this is a taut exercise in Middle American pulp fiction, a gorgeously acted set of monologues about moral ambiguity and a couple of disappointed beat cops in a violent downward spiral of shakedowns, bigotry and enormous self-delusion.
Huff, a longtime Chicago playwright, has clearly hit the dreamboat jackpot for his Broadway debut. This is a tight, mean story about a petty, mean world, unflinchingly staged (with surprisingly good Chicago accents) by British director John Crowley ("The Pillowman") on a bare stage that, every so often, is shadowed by the scary/sad outline of tenements.
The writing is part second-generation David Mamet, part TV cop show - not profound or wildly original, but commanding, with both a bully-boy swagger and a closely observed sense of casual ugliness.
Jackman and Craig mostly sit in chairs under what appear to be interrogation lamps. They tell their versions of events in the past tense, sometimes to us, sometimes to each other. Jackman - radically transformed from his Tony-winning song-and-dance flamboyance as "The Boy From Oz" - boasts black patent-leather hair and the insolent air of entitlement as Denny, the family man and alpha dog in this friendship. Craig - an experienced London stage actor but a genuine discovery for Broadway - plays the milder-mannered Joey, a lonely alcoholic who seems to want to hide behind his bland mustache. He may be a less flashy character, but his drives are no less primal.
The men, buddies since "kinnygarten," have just been passed over again for promotion to detective, a slight that the creatively foul-mouthed Denny attributes to reverse racism: "They want tolerance from me, they should start tolerating my intolerance." Atrocities are self-justified in the name of honor, duty and family.
And star casting is justified with quality theater.
WHAT "A Steady Rain"
WHERE Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.
INFO $66.50-$140; 212-239-6200; telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE A steady hit.