THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stage Door: Still Life, A Steady Rain, If It Wasn't For the Irish and the Jews

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Still Life at the Lucille Lortel Theater speaks volumes.

An extraordinarily sensitive piece, it focuses on a tender love story. A talented photographer (Sarah Paulson) is suffering the equivalent of stage fright: She can't take pictures anymore. She falls for a futurist (Frederick Weller) who is emotionally stymied. Together, they carve out, in stops and starts, a union. But he, like she, has dark demons that must be confronted.

Still Life, which details the various, and often troubled relationships between men and women, rings true. Married friends (Ian Kahn and Kelly McAndrew) discover understanding, not romance, binds them, while Weller's deplorable, albeit successful colleague (Matthew Rauch), is a stunted human being; lacking compassion and civility he cannot forge an emotional connection. His instincts are base; the Neanderthal disguised as businessman.

Which is playwright Alexander Dinelaris' message: The life force cannot be reduced to primal urges. Aesthetics, like profound emotion, must weigh in. Economically directed by Will Frears and beautifully acted, Still Life takes a snapshot of urbanites discovering the causal link between life and death, art and redemption. The ties that bind -- familial and friendship -- are only valuable if they buttress our best selves. We are all wounded, grasping creatures, latching onto fame, career, power or people to define us. The lucky discover the transcendent power of art. Weller's final scene, almost operatic in its quiet beauty, breathes life into his lover -- and humbles the audience.

A second dramatic one-two punch is delivered uptown at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in A Steady Rain, a tense production that owes a debt to David Mamet. It delivers two crackerjack performances and a downpour of moral erosion. The setting is spare -- two chairs, two men, and a few days that will change their lives forever. Two cops and lifelong friends, Joey (Daniel Craig) and Denny (Hugh Jackman), battle the mean streets, but the endless war with filth and degradation takes its toll.

Denny is a family man with a good heart but an inherently violent nature. His partner, by contrast, has a thoughtful temperament and an inchoate longing for his best friend's wife. Passed up for promotion; they blame reverse racism. Then, one night, they answer a police call with horrific consequences. The power of A Steady Rain lies in its honesty and pathos. Both Jackman and Craig don the Chicago accents and sensibilities of beat cops with ease. We're drawn into their lives by the simplicity of the telling; at once powerful and explosive.

Playwright Keith Huff doesn't sugarcoat his characters' flaws, nor does he minimize the contradictions and demands of their jobs. He does compel the audience to consider the murkiness of morality and justice, as well as the nature of sacrifice. Trapped in a legal nightmare, the final moments are shattering. Pared to its essence and thanks to Jackman and Craig's chemistry, A Steady Rain marks the Broadway debut of an important new voice.

Voices from a bygone era will be celebrated at a one-night-only concert Oct. 24 at Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, when music folklorist Mick Moloney presents If It Wasn't For the Irish and the Jews, a tribute to Irish and Jewish influences on vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley.

The show salutes a little-known phenomenon: Tin Pan Alley, famed for the music of Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin, was also home to the collaboration of Irish and Jewish composers and songwriters. Sentimental favorites "My Wild Irish Rose" and "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" emerged during this period.

Such was the nature of ethnic flux in pre-war New York entertainment, Norah Bayes, beloved for her performance of "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" was born Norah Goldberg, while "Jewish" stage star Eddie Foy was actually Edwin Fitzgerald. This cross-cultural apex was toasted in 1912, when William Jerome and Jean Schwartz composed "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews," the title of Moloney's just-released CD.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Liz Hanley and The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra join in the salute to a vibrant chapter in American popular music.