One Dark, One Lighter

photo: scene from  “A Steady Rain”
photo: scene from “A Steady Rain”

Renegade Theater Company’s production of “A Steady Rain” runs at 8 p.m. this Thursday through Saturday, April 19-21, at Teatro Zuccone. This hard-hitting play features Scott Mallace and Zach Stofer portraying two Chicago cops. First-time director Nick Violante pulls their guts out.

I was still processing the story the following morning after a prolonged sleep. I can remember the scenes vividly, and yet they’re all in our heads; the entire evening consists of monologues and dialogues. Joey and Denny relate a series of mind-blowing events while sitting around coffee cups.

Joey (Mallace) has been underdog to Denny (Stofer) since childhood, when his friend consistently beat him up. Denny not only still intimidates his partner, he knocks his wife and kids around. He shakes down prostitutes, goes after pimps. When he’s supposed to take a course in racism, he sticks Joey with the classtime.

Kids play a big role in the stories we’re told. Babies to teenagers, they just can’t seem to win. In Denny’s vendetta against a pimp who permanently wounded his two-year-old, other children take a morbid toll. In a terrifically wrong call (think Milwaukee’s cops and Jeff Dahmer), the partners submit a Vietnamese youth to the jaws of hell.

This mistake is the undoing of the hapless duo: they are suspended without pay and separate attorneys suggested. Still in thrall, Joey offers to take the rap. How can the story get deeper or darker? It does. Says one, “We should have known the demons. We’re the demons’ friends.”

“A Steady Rain” premiered in playwright Keith Huff’s Chicago, then went on to New York, where Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig starred. It is not for the faint of heart.


County Seat Theater Company brings us “Steel Magnolias,” Wednesday through Sunday, April 18-22. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m., except for Sunday at 2 p.m. Performances are at Encore! Performing Arts Center and Gallery in Cloquet.

Cheryl Kramer-Milder directs this funny, moving play. Written by Robert Harling as an expression of  grief upon the diabetes-related death of his sister, the story was made into a successful 1989 film.

The action takes place in Louisiana, in a converted car port cum beauty parlor owned by Truvy Jones. Warmhearted Truvy, played with sass by Ruthie Zissos, caters to a bevy of local women, all who enjoy one another’s company. Shelby (Jodie Jurek) and her mom, M’Lynn (Ellie Martin), come in for appointments to get their hair done for Shelby’s wedding. We learn right away that Shelby is diabetic.

Shelby’s subsequent pregnancy, announced at Christmas, is a source of anguish for M’Lynn, but she’s encouraged to think positively: “Diabetics have babies all the time.” And, yes, the delivery is successful, even though premature.

Afterwards, Shelby has severe complications. Ultimately M’Lynn responds, “I was there when this wonderful person drifted in, then out of my life. I’m so mad. I just want to hit somebody till they feel as bad as I do.”

Kramer-Milder has well-chosen Aleyse Chapin as Annelle, a young, born-again stylist hired by Truvy; Michelle Juntunen as recent widow and radio station owner Clairee; and Mary Smith as grouchy two-time widow Ouiser. The entire cast just fits into the skins of their characters.

The repartee sparkles, as do the costumes by Annette Gannucci (especially Truvy’s). You can’t miss on this homey, prickly-sweet play. And the Encore! Gallery features magnolia-inspired art.

To find Encore! from Duluth, take Interstate 35 South to the second Cloquet exit. Drive straight across all lanes of  Highway 33 and turn left onto the frontage road. Encore! Performing Arts Center will be about two blocks down and on the right.