Andy Pyle takes the stage at Natasha's Bistro & Bar favoring Law & Order: SVU's Chris Meloni, his delivery authoritative and confident. Next to him is Clint Gill, looking like NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz, if Franz lost some weight and grew a few inches.
Director Kathi E.B. Ellis is not averse to taking the audience to the world of the 10 p.m. police procedural in her production of A Steady Rain, as long as they know they are heading somewhere else.
"We didn't want to fall into that trap of stereotypes — we hope — while recognizing that these similarities would help audiences find a familiarity with the situations," Ellis says.
One of the pivotal situations in the story is familiar to people who followed the case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered 17 people from June 1978 to July 1991, dismembering and keeping parts of many of their bodies.
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Less than two months before Dahmer was arrested, a 14-year-old Vietnamese boy escaped from Dahmer's apartment and was found by two women, who called police. When Dahmer intervened and insisted that the boy was his 19-year-old boyfriend, the police let the boy go with Dahmer without verifying the teen's age or running a background check on Dahmer that would have revealed that he was a registered sex offender.
In Keith Huff's play, two Chicago cops encounter a similar situation and do the same thing in what becomes a key moment in the unraveling of their lives, careers and friendship.
That's the real point of the play, not rehashing the Dahmer-like case but exploring the events of one summer and their effect.
"The story is about the dissolution of a 40-year friendship in less than two months; it's about loyalty and betrayal, about self-interest and sacrifice, about self-deception and moments of absolute clarity — the stuff that makes scripts stand the test of centuries," Ellis says.
The encounter with the murderer doesn't even appear until Act II. The play first sets up the friendship of Denny, a hothead cop whose reckless behavior takes a heavy toll on his family, and Joey, his quieter partner ,who struggles with alcoholism and is in love with Denny's wife.
The two-character drama mixes scenes of each of the men in apparent individual interrogations and in interactions with each other.
Ellis, who lives in Louisville, has had her eye on this script for a couple years. The play began readings in Chicago in 2007 and opened on Broadway in September 2009, with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.
When rights for the play became available, Ellis seized the opportunity and offered it to Balagula.
"I thought it would be the sort of script Balagula would like," Ellis says. "And being such a new script, it's really cool for Balagula to have it."
The miles between Lexington and Louisville have presented Ellis and her Louisville-based cast with a challenge. They have limited time to rehearse on the Balagula stage and are shuttling regularly between their homes and the venue.
"Balagula's production staff and I communicated through email, which made it easy to stay current with the production needs," Ellis says. "The biggest adjustment will be for the performers to factor in an hour and a half travel time each way on performance nights."
This is not the first Lexington directing gig for Ellis, who has been involved with theaters around the country. She previously led productions at Actors Guild of Lexington, and last summer, she presented a production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort.
A Steady Rain is "a script I believe in," Ellis says. "Whatever the effort is, it's a worthwhile effort."