Tense police drama explores moral gray areas

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 16, 2016

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The stresses of police work can exact a heavy toll on law enforcement professionals, and that cost is explored in detail in Keith Huff’s “A Steady Rain,” a dark, gritty drama being produced this month by Grosse Pointe Theatre’s Purdon Studio Theatre.

“A Steady Rain” — which will open with a performance at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores — is about Joey and Denny, lifelong friends and partners on the Chicago police force, whose relationship is tested by a domestic disturbance call that goes from bad to worse. In a world populated by crooks, pimps and prostitutes, both men navigate an increasingly murky gray area as their loyalty and friendship get rocked to the core.

Because of adult content and language, this show is not recommended for anyone younger than 18.

Mark Boyd, of Grosse Pointe Park, plays Denny and Todd Alderson, of Grosse Pointe Farms, plays Joey, while Kevin Fitzhenry, of Warren, is the director and designer of the set, lighting and sound. Boyd and Alderson are relatively new to the Pointes and GPT, having each only moved to the area within the last two years, while Fitzhenry is better known to GPT audiences for his work as an actor in shows such as “Moonlight and Magnolias,” “The Producers” and “Fox on the Fairway.” This is his GPT directorial debut, although he’s directed shows for other theaters.

Boyd and Alderson both have performance backgrounds, and both say they were drawn to this show by what Boyd acknowledged were two “challenging” roles.

Boyd, a professional actor who has done stage work as well as commercials and independent films, was featured in the pilot episode of the Syfy cable series “12 Monkeys.”

Alderson had appeared previously in a few TV commercials and was an on-air radio personality in his home state of California for about a decade. He was in the Arthur Miller drama “A View from the Bridge” that GPT produced in November 2014.

“Grosse Pointe Theatre does a lot of musicals and lighthearted shows,” Alderson said. “This one is not (either of those things). … I thought (‘A Steady Rain’) was very different for them — very dark, very challenging, very compelling.”

As a two-man show, the play demands a lot from its actors, especially considering the fact that even the set is relatively spare. Both actors have a great deal of dialogue and have to carry the show by the strength of their performances.

“As an actor, you say, ‘I wonder if I can do that and make it look interesting and not like two guys reading.’ That’s a lot of stress,” Boyd admitted. “(But) I almost prefer it. I’ve done a lot of shows with a big cast, and they’re fun, but there’s so much that’s out of your control.”

Alderson said he’s been getting assistance and advice from the more seasoned Boyd.

“It’s helped me grow as an actor,” he said of working on this production.

Helping both actors convincingly portray police officers is Eddie Tujaka, of Grosse Pointe Farms, the show’s technical advisor. Besides being a veteran of several GPT productions, Tujaka spent 39 years in law enforcement — first with the Detroit Police Department and then with the Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Department, from which he retired at the end of December as a lieutenant after more than 29 years on the force. 

Tujaka trained the actors how to walk, talk, stand and handle weapons the way law enforcement officers do, but mostly, “I sat and told them a lot of stories,” he said. Although the accounts in “A Steady Rain” might sound extreme and outlandish, Tujaka said many of them are based on actual police and news reports.

“When you’re a cop, you’re a cop 24/7,” he said. “You can’t turn it off.”

Because of their training, police approach situations differently than other people.

“From the time you enroll in the police academy, it’s ingrained in you that people want to kill you,” Tujaka said.

The very real threats that police officers face not only to themselves, but also to the people close to them compound the stresses of the job. Police officers see a side of humanity that’s often hidden from the rest of the world — the kinds of horrors and depravity that leave a permanent imprint on anyone who witnesses them.

“I don’t know that there’s anything like (this show) out there,” Fitzhenry said. “My first thought was, how much is embellished and how much of it is real. And you realize a lot of inspiration for the story came from real police investigations. … This job can get very personal when family is involved and they see horrific crimes happen right in front of them. You don’t get to see this (in) theater.”

Boyd echoed that sentiment.

“I think it shines a light on some of the ugliness of the world, and that makes it a bit harder to watch,” he said. “It’s certainly not a feel-good play. There’s a mention in the play of the slippery slope, and to me, that’s right on point with what happens to both of these guys.”

Police are idealized by some and reviled by others in society, but the truth, as it often is, is somewhere in between.

“They’re just broken people in a broken world trying to deal with complex problems for which there’s not a solution,” Alderson said of Joey and Denny. “And that’s life.”

“A Steady Rain” runs through Feb. 28 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. Tickets cost $15, and advance reservations are recommended because seating is limited. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.