Saturday, May 4, 2013

“The Rainmaker” at Lakewood Playhouse

The News Tribune

May 3, 2013
The language, mood and family dynamics of “The Rainmaker” by N. Richard Nash, currently playing at Lakewood Playhouse, put me in mind of “Grapes of Wrath” and Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie,” and in a different way of “The Music Man,” which could have been lifted almost entirely from Nash’s script.
The Rainmaker is Starbuck (Bruce Story), a 1930s dustbowl con man who promises the Curry family that he can make it rain within twenty-four hours for a hundred bucks. Of course he doesn’t make it rain, but he makes the family members look into their hearts and reassess themselves to the betterment of them all.
The father, H.C. Curry (Elliot Weiner) and his sons, Noah (Jacob Tice) and Jim (Mason Quinn) are desperate to find a husband for Lizzie (Tanya Barber), the only girl in the family. But Lizzie has no hope of ever getting married, mostly because Noah, the unyielding practical brother, has convinced her she’s plain looking.
Mason Quin as Jim and Elliot Weiner as H.C. Curry. Photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse
It’s no surprise that Starbuck romances her and gives her hope, because it is not really rain he is selling; it is hope.

Judy Cullen’s set is fabulous. The cutaway back wall with lighting by Niclas R. Olson makes the set rich. Setting it at an angle allows the actors to play to an audience on two sides thereby solving the common problem of seeing the action in this theater-in-the-round space. The set is actually three-in-one: the Curry home, the tack room and the local sheriff’s office, and changes from one set to another are done smoothly with lighting changes. Scene changes are eased into with great selections of period country music.

Barber’s portrayal of Lizzie is on-target down to the smallest gesture. Her fears, her courage and her stoicism are conveyed with her eyes, and when good things finally happen to her, her joy is so infectious as to make audience members want to cry with happiness. This Seattle-based actor making her Lakewood Playhouse debut is a treasure.

Another newcomer with only one previous show at Lakewood Playhouse (as Orsino in “Twelfth Night”), Quinn is equally joyful to watch. Little brother Jim is the most likeable character in the play, and it is predominantly due to Quinn’s acting.

The rest of the cast is also good, with the very slight exception of Story, who comes very close to capturing the magic of Starbuck’s charm but falls ever so slightly short. It’s an almost impossible role to play because Starbuck is an outlandish, unbelievable, larger-than-life crook; and yet he has to be played as utterly charming. Story nails it in the tender romance scenes with Lizzie in which his care for her is absolutely convincing, but he doesn’t quite bring it off in the scenes with the father and brothers particularly in the first act. (Robert Preston did it in “The Music Man,” but he got to do it with the help of catchy tunes.)

Another problem is the fight scenes. They look fake to a degree that they momentarily take the audience out of the story. If audiences are willing to overlook the brief fight scenes and accept that there really can be a character as outlandish as Starbuck and that he can easily woo a strong woman like Lizzie and persuade practical men like H.C. Curry to fork over money for his absurd swindle, then this just may be the best play you’ll see all year. It is touching and funny and ultimately uplifting.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 12
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $18-$24
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

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