‘Scandal’ star directing Alliance play ‘A Steady Rain’


“A Steady Rain”

Sept. 18-Oct. 11. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (no 2:30 p.m. show on Sept. 19); 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. $20-$39. Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. http://alliancetheatre.org/.

Like almost every character on “Scandal,” Jeff Perry’s White House chief of staff character Cyrus Beene is the embodiment of intensity and drama. Cyrus spits out his words. He yells. He gesticulates. He appears as if he’s carrying the weight of the civilized world on his shoulders — because he is.

The actor Jeff Perry? Not so much. He was the picture of relaxation at the Center for Civil and Human Rights this past weekend, where he was promoting a play he's directing for the Alliance Theatre called "A Steady Rain." Even when he made a request for coffee, Perry sounded vaguely apologetic for even asking.

" 'Scandal' is like crack TV," Perry said of the soapy Shonda Rhimes drama, which returns at 9 p.m. Sept. 24 for its fifth season on ABC. "I didn't know someone could ram that much story into any given 42 minutes."

“A Steady Rain,” which will be at the Alliance’s Hertz Stage from Sept. 18 through Oct. 11, has a “Scandal” plot twist but in a very different setup. On the surface, it’s a simple two-man play focused on two Chicago cops grappling with a catastrophic event, morality and their own demons. Perry saw the Broadway production in 2009 starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman and became fascinated with the play.

He has since directed the play in different cities, though directing, he said, is not his primary forte.

"I have a sentimentality for the aesthetic of small spaces," said Perry, a Chicago native who co-founded Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company with fellow actor Gary Sinise more than 40 years ago. "And in this case, I don't need to act. I simply want to help tell the story. I like this play because it really explores the limits of male friendship. It also explores how our vantage points are destined to be solitary to an extent."

And Perry found this particular play fascinating because he said it breaks the cardinal rule of theater: show, don’t tell. “These characters are retelling events that happened in the past and sometimes they put creative spin and justifications on history,” he said. “It’s a word-drenched script. It’s almost more like an audio book experience.”

He pitched the play to Alliance artistic director Susan Booth, also a former Chicago denizen. But although their years in Chicago did overlap, Perry said they never worked together until now. And one of the actors in the play, Tom Kelly, had worked with Booth for a play at the Alliance in 2013.

“Scandal,” in the meantime, returns next week, and character Cyrus is in a bind. During the season four finale, President Fitz Grant had ousted him as White House chief of staff over a perceived betrayal.

“Fitz got fed up being lied to,” Perry said. “I try to tell him I only lie when it’s necessary. I’m protecting you. It’s for the good of the republic.”

Perry can’t give away much of what is going to happen, but he agrees that it’s doubtful Cyrus will be collecting too many unemployment checks or sitting at home watching “Judge Judy” all day.

“Cyrus will move heaven and earth to get back into the White House,” Perry said. “Being at home is not going to work. Cyrus at home? I can’t picture it.”