Seven Tyrants, Penthouse Nightclub Studio Theatre, until March 3rd

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Liz Gloucester


On approaching the historic Penthouse Club we hear the purr of a saxophone. It continues as we wind our way up the stairs past the main floor in search of a different type of action. Upstairs the lobby and lounge conjure romantic images of prohibition rooms and bawdy deals made on three-legged stools. A red carpet leads us into the newly renovated black box theatre which is quite set apart from the ambience outside. Our mysterious musical guide has tucked his saxophone away for the night and is now seated at a keyboard to the right of the stage.


After having been bowled over by the accompaniment in Seven Tyrants' production of Topdog/Underdog I expected great things from this year's production and they certainly delivered. As music designer, Kurt Schindelka has crafted an exceptional spectrum of filmic underscore, choosing to introduce the piece with a gussied-up theme reminiscent of a seventies cop show but then moving seamlessly through the emotional rollercoaster presented by the script. He introduces A Steady Rain well; for it is a traditional 'buddy-cop' show with many of the tropes laid out for us both by the writing and production itself. We are presented with two cops, Denny and Joey, working the mean streets of Chicago, side by side, back to back; friends since childhood. We know the drill. We are also familiar with the characters - a stereotypical double act - Denny is broad and brash with a deep love for his family and a weakness for accepting backhanders. Joey is serious and brooding - a recovering alcoholic who gradually realises that he is in love with Denny's wife. The conceits are presented through a series of out-of-unity soliloquies and real-time duologues. 


According to the program, this is the first show that Co-Artistic Producers of Seven Tyrants Daniel Deorksen and David Newham have acted in together after having incorporated the company in 2008. Clearly the exception to the 'Jack of all Trades' figure of speech, the duo have also mastered the sound and lighting design for the piece; both perfectly befitting. The distractions of producing and designing have clearly not distracted from the main event - they will blow your socks off with their refined and authentic performances. Not only do they excel in their speeches but also in their silences, often in part shadow listening to the narrative of the other. We have all heard the old nugget that 'acting is just listening'. These guys do it in abundance; They are present for everything; There is no down time. 


I particularly enjoyed the clear distinction between the characters. Newham fills the stage with Denny's impetuous swagger, completely belligerent towards 'change' and in no fear of barking out his sometimes offensive conclusions.  Deorksen, on the other hand, is discerning and still, carefully choosing moments to pluck one hand up or take a meticulous step. An early scene shows the pair enjoying dinner with Denny's wife Connie and a prostitute named Rhonda, invited for the purpose of serving as an unwanted blind-date for Joey. Denny is so keen for Joey and Rhonda to hit it off he is oblivious to the tension building at the table. Deorksen's awkward interaction with the air is exquisite and hilarious. As the plot progresses the downward spiral of Newham's character Denny presents him with the opportunity to show a tough guy 'getting emotional'. It is brutal to watch - I felt the pain emanating from his eyes. The volatility of Newham's performance throughout is quite marvellous; he never wavers from his character and explores an array of meteoric behaviours. 


The plot and writing is pacy and quick-witted; highly entertaining and indicative of a great television drama - not surprising as playwright Keith Huff has helped produce and co-write TV series Mad Men and House of Cards. It is very much like watching a piece of well-acted film noir and seemingly of little consequence - until part way through where we are hit with a curve-ball; a sly but significant link to a real-life nightmare which grounds the piece in its entirety leaving us no longer able to enjoy it as a purely culinary offering. A figurative smack in the face. Easy to watch, hard-hitting drama with exceptional production value and a striking score. I'd be scraping the barrel to find anything negative about it.


By Emma Rossland


Generally, I prefer larger ensembles over one or two man shows, but Seven Tyrants Theatre’s production of “A Steady Rain” was a truly unique experience. The two actors put on an amazing performance, that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and I can hardly think of one fault.


The play starts with a black stage. A piano on stage left is dimly lit so the pianist can see the keys, very film noir with its live piano music and crime drama feel. When the lights come up the stage is simple, two chairs and a table comprise the main set. In fact, everything about this play is simple but powerful: staging, set, lighting, sound… all of it.


The sound is, again, simple yet perfect. Kurt Schindelka’s piano accentuates the scenes and monologues beautifully as it weaves in and out of the story for dramatic effect. The sound of a steady rain throughout the story (something Vancouverites can relate to) is a motif that adds a certain feeling of growing tension that builds and builds until it finally breaks. The sound of a gunshot is all that is needed to portray a significant moment, no actual visual is needed as the audience is so wrapped up in the story that their imagination fills in what is not explicitly shown.  


Keith Huff’s script is also commendable. Snappy dialogue and monologues telling two sides of a story, at times slightly opposing each other, work together to portray a beautifully cohesive account. Huff’s script is full of foreshadowing, a verb tense hinting at what will happen to a character, a seemingly meaningless encounter with a crying Asian boy and friendly looking blond “surfer” guy. These clues might make you stop and think or slightly jog your memory, but it won’t be until near the end that you fully realize what was being hinted at.


The intimate setting of the Penthouse Studio Theatre makes the officers Joey, played by Daniel Deorksen, and Denny, David Newham, seem all that more real. At times the actors appear to be looking directly at you, telling you their stories and personally appealing to you.


Director Bill Devine’s staging is minimalist but insightful. It might be as straightforward as the actors moving the two chairs around to create different locations, ranging from a dinner table to inside a car, or interacting with invisible characters. Or an actor turning away or leaning frozen against a wall as the other is telling his account of the story. Though at times the actors might appear frozen, they are still very much a part of the scene, their pose showing inner thoughts and feelings, sometimes interjecting during the other’s monologue with a comment or objection.


The performances by the two actors are phenomenal. The amount of dialogue that these two have to remember is huge. There may be the occasional slight falter or fumble with a line or two, but honestly, they’d have to be superhuman to get through that much dialogue without a couple of hitches. The script is so dialogue heavy and fast-paced that the two can hardly be faulted for the tiny occasional hiccup. Both actors played their characters perfectly, complete with Chicago accents. Deorksen’s Irish cop is perfectly matched with Newham’s Italian one. Neither character is entirely loveable and yet the actors make it possible to sympathize with them and feel for them during their difficulties.    


The story is thought-provoking and interestingly tied to real events surrounding Jeffrey Dahmer. It addresses interesting topics like unethical cops, the struggle to do what’s right, personal tragedy and the fallout that comes after. Seven Tyrants Theatre has done an impressive job with this production and as long as you’re in the mood for tons of dialogue with little staged action this show is a must-see.