Both A Steady Rain and The Detective's Wife, presented by Hellfire Productions, take place on stormy nights. At least that's what the thundery sound effects suggest—the exact context of each play remains uncertain. Squally darkness fits these two gritty cop dramas by Keith Huff, stuffed as they are with intrigue, conspiracy and corruption. But it's almost too fitting, as is much else in these two neat and tidy plays.

Pat Patton directs A Steady Rain, the earlier of Huff's plays. Don Alder and David Sikking play two Chicago beat cops, friends since childhood and steady allies on patrol. Joey (Sikking) is the strait-laced one, clean-shaven in a tie and sports coat, who coughs out the occasional "effing" as his friend unleashes a steady fire of expletives. Denny (Alder) is rougher and gruffer, a family man who shakes down prostitutes to make ends meet at home. In intersecting monologues, Joey and Denny recount the spiral of mistakes that threatens their careers and undoes their friendship. It's an overwritten yarn, but Sikking and Alder keep it afloat. Alder's performance is hardboiled without devolving into one-note cynicism. Sikking is softer, both sympathetic and flawed. 

The Detective's Wife, directed by JoAnn Johnson, takes a similar storytelling format but cuts the cast to one. Marilyn Stacey stars as Alice, the wife of a homicide detective gunned down on the job. Alice is a voracious consumer of mystery novels, and she, predictably, works to crack the story behind her husband's death. It's not altogether satisfying. Stacey's performance is fine, if somewhat lacking in range, and she benefits from the dynamic staging, including the clever use of slide projections to show crime-scene photos and pages from murder files. 

Still, The Detective's Wife is the more nuanced play. Its outcome is less apparent than A Steady Rain's, and it handles some of the same moral questions—the conflict between loyalty and duty and whether the end justifies the means—with greater subtlety. Both plays are too neat, but The Detective's Wife is just a bit more rumpled, just a tad richer.

SEE IT: A Steady Rain and The Detective's Wife play at the Shoe Box Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 757-6836. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Sundays, 4 pm Sundays. Through Oct. 7. $20 for each individual play or $35 for both.