A Steady Rain – A nightmarish confrontation with our double. (Theatre Review)
The below is more of a critical analysis of A Steady Rain than a review. It is probably best appreciated after you have seen the play. For me the play contained strong elements of psychoanalysis and its a bad habit of mine to want to indulge whenever I’m provoked. I was moved by this play, and am more interested in why it moved me than in a judgement of the production itself. My suggestion is to see it, then ask yourself why it held you. Feel free to give me heaps of shit in the comments below if you think I’m drawing too long a bow here. Thanks for reading if you make all the way to the end. Cheers. Lisa
A Steady Rain
Red Line Productions at The Old Fitz Theatre
Photo credits Tim Levy
The question at the centre of A Steady Rain as cultural phenomenon (and I call it that due to its plucked from nowhere success) is why does this story continue to appeal to us today? It is no accident Justin Stewart Cotta plays Denny. He played Kenny in The Removalists in 2013. An almost identical role, and in itself a commentary on the longevity of this conversation regarding the removal of the “man’s man” and his replacement by an emblem of political correctness. The Removalists was written in 1971, and thirty-six years later, A Steady Rain is grasped by none other than Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, making its broadway debut less than two years after its humble origins. It turned writer Keith Huff into an overnight sensation. Yet it is the same story, related through a remarkably simple theatrical structure that reduces the audience to passive recipient (something The Removalists did also) that privileges a superior white male perspective. So the question remains, why are we still so fascinated with the (now overly long and drawn out) death of the man’s man?
A Steady Rain is an actors play. So it isn’t surprising that actors love it and want to bring it life. Certainly the audience is well rewarded for its passivity in that the performances and direction on display in this current incarnation at The Old Fitz are excellent and appropriately tug at the emotions, making for a moving night of theatre. It might be safe and very conservative, but it is definitely easy to enjoy. But the connection the audience experiences to A Steady Rain, as passive as it is, is powerful. There is something in the subversion of this buddy-cop drama that captures, if not the mind, then the heart of the audience.
Perhaps this lies in the use of the double, the slight shift that sees one world view obliterated and the alternate world view rewarded with its spoils. The double embodies myself, but without the castrated dimension of myself. The double (here it is the two cops who play opposing roles of the white male psyche) provides us with access to becoming partial object, wich allows us to realise that important second dimension of self. Is that not what the online profile is all about? The perfect vehicle to allow us to be embodied as both the self in all its frailty and the self as we want to be seen, without the castration of not being able to see ourselves as object? Is it possible that the key to the attraction to A Steady Rain is the duality of Joey and Denny’s relationship displayed before us, and the satisfaction of witnessnessing an ideal obliterate the existence of the flawed real?
When we hear Joey describe the vision of Connie, holding the child and staring out of the window at her cheating husband, we know his fantasy is realised. Its called a nightmare. In psychoanalysis the realised fantasy is always fashioned by extreme violence. Central to Joey’s fantasy is the elimination of Denny. Interestingly, Denny knows what Joey wants, and tries to provide it, by mistakenly offering his own fantasy scenario – the seductive mother/whore. But in order for Joey to have what he wants, in order for him to have everything Denny knows he wants, a death transition must take place and thus begins the elimination of Denny.
This idea mirrors the two selves we create in our own modern world – that of the on-line me and the real world me. Things start as fake, artificial, a product of the ego, but you get caught up in your own seductions. One gets caught in the game of appearances with the on-line self. Eventually appearances win over reality because they are the prefered real. It’s almost as if the face is a void, a nothingness, and so we try to fill that void with our fantasies – the wealth of human personality, the quantifying beauty of the small details of our life etc. The confrontation at the heart of Denny and Joey is the confrontation of subjectivity. Masculinity is exposed as fake. Masculinity is an escape from the most radical nightmarish dimension of subjectivity. The elimination of Denny is satisfactory because we want the ugliness of the nether world that threatens to explode at any time and engulf us to be contained.
Denny signals this in his repeated “It’s not logical. It’s not logical.” At the most rudimentary level of this statement, we can see that the male gaze is being subverted for the preferred idealistic whole that sees all humans in the full glory of their humanity. But at a deeper level, we see a man who held on to his own form of rationalism, a tried and true method of coding and decoding the world, fully destroyed in his inability to see beyond it. Even as he stares into Joey’s eyes and asks if they can recognise the devil when stands before them, he can’t see the potential for his own destruction lies within the parts of his friend that are himself.
We see that dreams are for those who cannot confront reality and eventually we find that reality is for those who are too weak to confront their dreams.
Denny’s constructed reality is posited against Joey’s idealised fantasy. Connie is the reward of Denny’s reality and the idealised fictional reward of Joey’s fantasy. The nightmare of A Steady Rain is the demise of Denny in violence, but the real nightmare is the rise of Joey who steals everything from Denny in order to realise his own fantasy. It is Denny’s fantasy of the masculine real that we see disintegrate. With this disintegration we don’t see reality. We see a nightmarish real too traumatic to be experienced as a reality. It is another definition of nightmare, or hell. Therefore fantasy is reconstituted as the ultimate horizon of our experience. To use my clumsy earlier metaphor, the triumph of our online presence is it provides the double that allows us to escape the hell of our nothingness. According to Freud, all emotions are deceiving. The only emotion that doesn’t deceive is anxiety. If all other emotions are fake, locating them in the fake world, the world of the fantasy, the online world, gives them a place to impact the real in a constrained and safe way.
Perhaps it is this that Keith Huff taps into that ignites some recognition in all of us living in constant proximity to our fantasy double. It is not the surface tension of the buddy cop scenario, nor is it the comforting familiarity of the male gaze. It is the shocking fear of an alternate version of ourselves rising up to destroy us. A fear we imagine we contain in the online world.
Whatever it is that A Steady Rain taps into, this production directed by Adam Cook and performed by Justin Stewart Cotta and Nick Barkla is a very engaging night of theatre that will leave you wondering why it touched you as deeply as it does. See it with friends, and have a good long chat after.