In addition to being (among other things) a cop story, an examination of subjective truth and a thesis on how we control the narrative of our memories, I believe Keith Huff’s play A Steady Rain (recently produced at Marin Theatre) can be read as an allegory depicting the redefining of American Masculinity.
Huff presents us with contrasting versions of masculinity in the two main characters, the Alpha dog Denny (Khris Lewin) and his Beta sidekick Joey (Kevin Rolston). They are two Chicago cops, friends since childhood, who vow to always have each other’s back. But it’s clear from the outset that trouble is brewing between them. Denny, who has always been in charge, is starting to take things too far in his pursuit of the local criminal who shot out his family’s front window. While Joey, who usually relinquishes control to accommodate his more dominant half is starting to question things. We know that it can’t continue like this for long before disaster eventually strikes. One must survive and the other fall. And so the stage is set for a battle between Denny’s old–school version of what it means to be a man and Joey’s new and still evolving model.
How will we know which man wins? Huff has made that very clear for us. The well being of Denny’s family will determine which approach best serves society. If Denny’s wife Connie is happy and their children are healthy then we will know the right type of man is calling the shots. This is not the state of affairs at the beginning of the play. When we first drop into their world we see that Connie is suffering and their little boy is in the hospital battling for his life. The world is out of balance and the rain is relentlessly coming down, as one character puts it, “like a sign of the end days”. Most of the trouble can be traced back to Denny’s increasingly extreme behavior.
Huff has loaded Denny with a plethora of disturbing male stereotypes. He is a hot-headed, racial epithet spouting, physically abusive and overly aggressive man. He cheats on his wife with prostitutes, drinks too much, and abuses women while ironically seeing himself as their savior. He also embraces a set of old world values about manhood. He bases his self worth on being the provider for his family. If he fails at this he fails at being a man. He won’t accept help either. He must do it himself. There’s no way he’d let his wife work. He attempts to solve his problems by physically forcing his will onto others and his wild-west individualism makes dealing with authority close to impossible.
These are methods that might have worked for Clint Eastwood’s rogue cop Harry Callahan, but we are living in different times now. Huff is making it very clear that such behavior doesn’t succeed in today’s world. It doesn’t get Denny promoted, it doesn’t get his son to the hospital in time, nor does it keep his family safe. Denny’s approach is nothing but destructive and self-defeating. The days of the primal, Neanderthal man are long gone. His brand of masculinity is no longer needed for our survival.
Huff has taken all the undesirable qualities of this archaic definition of manhood, which we wish to evolve beyond, bundled them together and strapped them to the back of Denny, our sacrificial Goat. At the end of the play Denny realizes what we have known all along, that he is in fact the cause of all the misery around him, and that in order for the world to become right again, he must go. He leads himself to the sacrificial altar in the sacred temple of domesticity and in one grand act of selflessness, takes his own life, thereby freeing the world of his barbarism.
When the sacrifice has been made, a new day arrives. The rain stops and our 21st century man emerges to take Denny’s place. This new man, Joey, has evolved past his bigotry (through racial sensitivity training) has overcome his addictions (alcohol), and most importantly he understands that his strength comes, not from his physical dominance nor aggressiveness, but rather, as Joey himself says, his power, his spine comes from Connie. He acknowledges womankind as the true source of power and strength in his life. The world slips wonderfully back into balance once Joey has taken up his rightful place in the family. Connie is once again happy, their little son has fully recovered, and Joey finally gets his long sought after promotion. The transformation is complete, the battle is won, and a new world order is established.