A Theater Review
By Ms. Hoo Sook Hwang
MINNEAPOLIS (Oct. 20, 2014) — On October 14th at the Guthrie Theater, Thomas Vincent Kelly and Sal Viscuso played two Chicago cops with extreme Eurocentric viewpoints. Denny, played by Sal Viscuso, is a foul-mouthed, bigoted cop, whose only lens of the world is that of entitlement and White privilege. He openly and proudly displaces anger and hostile feelings about a perceived lost promotion onto fellow police officers of color. His misperceptions of what it means to be politically correct fuel his hate filled ideas about culturally diverse ethnic populations. Continually, Denny fails to climb the hierarchal ranks of law enforcement largely due to his extroverted stream of racist consciousness. Time and time again, Denny fails to realize ways in which his racist attitudes and discriminatory actions serve as barriers to promotions.
His partner Joey, performed by Thomas Vincent Kelly is a recovering alcoholic who sees Denny’s flaws, yet defers to Denny’s forceful character and lifelong friendship. Each character’s deeply narrow views manifest into self-destructive behaviors and life styles. Denny chooses to remain trapped in a bigoted and violent worldview. At the same time, he makes feeble attempts to engineer a better life for Joey by setting him up with a variety of women. Joey entertains at a surface level that their racism needs to be addressed. When Joey works to confront his internal racial biases, Denny creates emotional and psychological barriers. Joey allows Denny’s communications to distract him from the police department’s broader message to increase racial sensitivity and decrease racial profiling.
The play is intense, deeply upsetting and convincing. Both actors bring to life a level of racist cruelty that is often politically denied. I applaud the writer’s courage to address racism within the context of the play. Both actors address what could happen to uncontrolled and racially motivated hate. The play openly addresses the psychological malignancy of racism, which when transferred into a fixation of being right, entitled and racist, results in further victimization. The characters boldly communicate terrible scenarios of what could happen if a person fails to deconstruct racist beliefs in the work place.
The play evoked emotions of pity for each character as they chose to blame people of color for their lack of insight, compassion and Darwin driven decisions. It was appalling to experience extreme racist perspectives that assume law enforcement are intentionally placed in positions to protect and serve all of humanity.
In the play, Denny’s son is shot due to some of his indirect work on the police force. Enraged, Denny takes the law into his own hands and suffers an avalanche of unpredictable consequences. Fired gunshots into Denny’s house result in shards of glass cutting his son’s carotid artery. Faced with the news that his son may have brain damage, Denny’s world caves in even more. Denny’s chooses do be driven by revenge.
Surprisingly, the playwright draws on real-life events surrounding Jeffrey Dahmer. When the characters are called to what seems like a routine domestic abuse situation, Denny and Joey encounter a terrified Vietnamese teenager. In the play, the 13-year old boy does not have a command of English, but in desperation looks to both police officers for help. When the police arrive to the scene, he is naked and hiding in an alley. He leaps at them and clings to Denny, seeking rescue. Denny’s bigotry drives the decisions he makes during the traumatic situation for the boy. Denny doesn’t try to understand the Asian boy and therefore perceives him as jabbering. Like the iconic photo of the child fleeing the napalm attack during the Vietnam War, they are unwilling to move beyond their preconceived stereotypes about Asians. They end up referring to the Vietnamese boy as a, “Rice Puppy,” and leave him to die.
A blonde American man approaches them and tells them that the boy is his nephew and suffering from PTSD that leads him to experience bouts of terror. The cops Eurocentric ideas about who is safe and who is not, leads them to turn the boy over to murderer. Within a short period of time it was revealed that the man is a serial murderer who kidnapped, killed, and cannibalized a number of adolescent and young adult boys. Witnesses in the neighborhood come forward to recount how the cops turned the Vietnamese boy over to the man who later murdered him.
The police inquiry and the massive publicity surrounding this atrocity led to suspension for Denny and Joey. Simultaneously, both continued to work towards salvaging their careers while Denny’s main focus was to seek revenge on the man who injured his family. Denny allows his rage to spin out of control, along with an unrelenting desire to punish the pimp who hurt his boy. In the meantime, Joey attempts to support Danny’s wife and children. They stand back and watch as Denny perpetrates violence and revenge.
This play is unrelentingly brutal. The violent and explicit back drop of bloodstains, broken glass and an innocent baby make it unfathomable to stomach. Bizarrely, “The Steady Rain” refers to the perceived injustice of the world inhabited by Denny and Joey. Yet, the title seems more congruent in describing the unyielding consequences innocent people suffer at the hands of the two callous cops.
There is no amount of strength that can power you through towards understanding this level of pathology. The play calls on audience members to withstand putrid levels of assault of violence and deeply entrenched bigotry. The corrupt use of power demonstrated by the compelling actors reveals a worst-case scenario of what could happen when racial hatred and pathological narcissism collides.