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From Chicago To The Great White Way

Date: Sep 21, 2009


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By Isaac Butler

Keith Huff proves the old saying that it takes years to become an overnight success. A longtime veteran of Chicago’s Off Loop theatre scene (with the accent to match), he has suddenly found his play A Steady Rainon Broadway. Opening on September 29, the two-man show stars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, whose wattage can only be described as “ginormous”. 

Huff is ready for the attention. “Getting a play done on Broadway with some major stars who are in the peak of their careers, it’s the pinnacle of a playwright’s career,” he says. “I think I’m living the dream come true. I think I’m ready for it. I paid twenty five years of dues.”

What does it take to graduate to the big time?  In Huff’s case, it takes coincidences, acquaintances, luck and hard work.  A Steady Rain was first produced in 2007 in Chicago, where a sold-out production at a nonprofit theatre quickly transferred to a commercial run. An Off Broadway production was in the works until a producer sent the play to Daniel Craig, best known as the current James Bond. When Craig said he liked the play, everyone’s sights shifted to Broadway. (Jackman, a Tony winner and star of the X-Men films, joined the cast in May.)

In A Steady Rain, Denny and Joey—two lifelong friends and Chicago police officers—tell the audience about a series of life-changing events. As their monologues unfold, revealing everything from police corruption to the loyalty between partners, it’s clear the men see the same moments in very different ways.

The “dual monologue” structure has its roots in the play’s low-budget origins. “I thought, ‘How can I tell a compelling story on such a minimal budget in a converted store front?’” Huff says. “I wanted to make it about storytelling. To me, it’s like they’re in a bar telling us a story in tandem. To me, when two people tell you a story, they’re correcting the details—one person leads off, the other person finishes.” 

Denny and Joey’s story features corruption, prostitution, drug dealing, cannibalism and vigilante justice, but the play’s origins are much less sensationalistic. Huff’s father-in-law was a lifelong Chicago police officer. “He said to me—about the police department—‘If you can imagine it, it happened,’” Huff says. “He came up through the ranks with William Hanhardt, who was chief of detectives in Chicago. He’s in jail now. He gets out of prison in 2012. He was running a jewelry fencing operation with the mafia for thirty years, and he was my father-in-law’s mentor and close friend.” 

That relationship led Huff to explore the human angle of police corruption. “I heard a lot of stories about the slippery morals of policemen who try to be good and try to be ethical,” he says. “I think there’s a clichéd version of the institutionalized corruption in Chicago, and I wanted to combat that a little and show the human side to it, too. You’re not corrupt just because you’re born in Chicago.”

So will New Yorkers respond to the corruption in the play or the humanity? Which version of the story will they believe? Huff is eager to find out. “When audiences talk to me about it, they really create the experience of it in their head,” he says. “I’ve had details thrown back to me that are wildly contradictory and aren’t even in the script. The storytelling aspect of it makes the audience the third character in the play.”

Isaac Butler is a director and producer. He also writes about theatre, politics and cultural issues for his website, parabasis (