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Nick Barkla and Justin Stewart Cotta in A Steady Rain. Images: Tim Levy.

THEATRE: 01 OCTOBER 2015

By JOHN ROZENTALS

A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff | Directed by Adam Cook

Red Line Productions | The Old Fitz Theatre (www.oldfitztheatre.com), Woolloomooloo, Sydney | Until 17 October

When the lights went out, the silence was deafening. One of the actors, Justin Stewart Cotta, had to remind the audience that the play had finished.

It wasn’t that the audience didn’t know. They’d simply been mesmerised by the performance of Cotta as Denny and Nick Barkla as his sidekick Joey in A Steady Rain, one of the most electrifying two-handers I’ve seen in a long time.

In the hands of playwright Keith Huff and director Adam Cook, the story of a couple of Chicago cops coming to grips with their own reality and relationships is, quite simply, stunning.

Believe me, the action and the drama will affect you for quite a long while after the performance finishes.

Cotta and Barkla must leave the stage each evening with a few extra bruises, so realistic and physical are their performances, especially in the fight scenes.

Denny and Joey grew up as schoolmates and have worked together on one of the world’s toughest beats for long enough to be in each other’s pockets.

They have plenty of personal baggage in the form of loving the bottle (Joey) and a blatant racist streak (Denny) but manage to get by with plenty of help from each other.

That is until a couple of separate incidents — an attack by a pimp on Denny’s family home, and some really bad judgment in returning a Vietnamese boy to a Dahmer-esque predator — set them on conflicting pathways that are bound to end badly.

The stark set allows attention to focus purely on the drama, the action and the character development that draws the audience well and truly into a sticky web indeed.

Cotta and Barkla are absolutely convincing in their roles, and Red Line’s telling of this bleakly dark tale has certainly helped elevate the company into the top layer of Sydney theatre.

I have to agree with The Chicago Tribune’s critic, who declared he’d like to see the play again “with an audience of real men in blue, just to take the temperature in the room”. Thumbs up.