Joey and Denny. Chicago beat cops and, as Denny puts it, “partners in crime.” They’ve had each other’s backs since kindergarten. You know these guys. Brothers in arms on the mean streets. Out looking to beat the odds, but more often catching the short end. They are the poster boys of the gritty cop thriller. World-weary, cynical and often tormented by the things they’ve been willing to do just to nail down a little justice in a screwed-up world.

Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain, being staged at South of Broadway Theatre in North Charleston, takes these stock characters and pries them open. He isolates them on stage, rarely allowing them to speak to each other. Rather, the playwright makes them explain themselves, their choices, and their conflicts directly to the audience. Call it a confession. Joey and Denny have plenty to get off their chests.

Denny Lombardo (Mark Poremba) is a shoot-from-the-hip alpha male. He’s got the life. Connie and the kids. The Lombardos have recently been named a Nielsen family. Denny celebrated the distinction by buying a 52-inch TV to impress the ratings company with their commitment.

Joey (Mark Gorman) is more of a puzzle. He’s a bachelor who nearly lost everything to a drinking problem. But Denny helps him overcome that by pulling him out of his crappy, lonely guy apartment and making him a regular fixture at the Lombardo dinner table. Denny is certain that Joey is envious of him. Why wouldn’t he be? Can’t Joey even acknowledge the good life when, every night, it’s put right in his face? “People, friend or foe,” Denny explains, “they do this all the time. They put down what you got ’cause they don’t got it ’cause they wish they had it but they don’t.” Denny is big on logic. So he says. Joey, it turns out, is big on Denny’s wife, Connie. But that’s later.

Denny is a family guy who would do anything to protect his loved ones. He’ll take a little pay-off money here and there, why not? A man has to support his family and it’s the cost of keeping the pimps in line and the hookers safe from their abuse. Plus, it looks like Denny and Joey are never going to see that detective promotion. Too many ass-kissing, affirmative action placeholders getting in the way.

Frustrations boil over when a bullet shatters the uneasy peace of the Lombardo household, seriously injuring Denny’s two-year-old and setting off a vengeance-addled chain of events. Not trusting the departmental detectives to build a case against the pimp whom Denny suspects of the shooting, Denny launches his own investigative vendetta. On their regular patrol, dealing with what appears to be a routine domestic disturbance call gets sidelined when Denny’s distracted by a possible lead. Abandoned by his partner, Joey makes a decision that results in a terrified Vietnamese boy being returned to the monster who will ultimately prove to be a serial killer. A Steady Rain puts the working class hero on unpaid administrative leave.

Both Poremba and Gorman nail their characters. Gorman’s Joey is the “sensitive guy” a trait the actor embraces whole-heartedly enough that he risks the character’s believability as a street cop. His character, submissive or philosophical where Denny is aggressive, serves in large measure to help define them both. No easy task and one accomplished well here.

Joey’s tale is no less nuanced than Denny’s but Poremba seems to have the edge in creating dimensions for his character to weave through. For all his purported, even desperate, adherence to “logic,” Denny is shot-through with contradictions and self-recrimination. Denny would love to be the man he thinks he is. Poremba lets us see that clearly and, in doing so with dignity, gives the working class hero a little of his own back.

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