“The Rainmaker,” written by N. Richard Nash, is a warm play about self-esteem, beauty and love, all symbolized by a drought and the promise of rain.
At the Hale Center Theater Orem, the presentation of this play is endearing and sweet, driving home most, if not all, of the things the script has to say.
At the center of the plot is Lizzie Curry, a young gal whose father and brothers want to see her married. You see, it’s the ’20s (or thereabouts; we’re not told, exactly), and getting married is what girls have to do if they want to be happy. Lizzie certainly wants to get married, but she considers herself plain and unappealing. Furthermore, she’s highly intelligent, and she refuses to stoop to flirting and cooing like the other girls do to get their men.
The town deputy, File, has a sort of nebulous fondness for Lizzie, and she for him, though it is mostly unspoken, and in fact woefully undeveloped in this production. We are merely TOLD that they may have feelings for each other, but it is not adequately demonstrated. (File’s character by himself goes pretty much undeveloped too, for that matter.)
And in the midst of all this, there’s a drought. Crops are dying, and so are the animals, and the Curry farm is in trouble. Along comes Starbuck, an allegedly charismatic man — again we’re TOLD he’s charismatic, though Gordy Villarini’s portrayal of him doesn’t really exude charisma; it’s more like watered-down superhero-like charm. Anyway, Starbuck pops in and announces that for $100, he can make it rain. He’s a con man, of course, but Lizzie’s father, H.C., and her little brother Jimmy decide to give him a chance.
Foolishness, you say? Not exactly. The whole idea here, as we soon learn when Starbuck takes a liking to Lizzie, is that everyone has to have a dream. Miracles don’t happen very often, but sometimes, you have to count on them to occur when necessary. Starbuck has always wanted to make it rain, but he’s never done it. The family wants it to rain, but there’s not much they can do about it. Lizzie wants a man to love her, and to settle down to a simple home life with a family of her own, but she’s convinced it will never happen to her.
Everyone has dreams, and what’s at issue here is whether those dreams are realistic. Noah, the sensible brother, played with power by Larson Holyoak, says everyone’s dreams are bunk: Starbuck can’t make it rain, Jimmy shouldn’t go chasing the town floozy, and Lizzie’s going to wind up an old maid. He calls it being realistic, and maybe it is. But, as Starbuck says, “You gotta take a chance. Relax, and let miracles happen.” In other words, sometimes you have to forget about being realistic and just start dreaming.
The drought is a metaphor for Lizzie’s desire for true love. During her first night back from a trip that was supposed to yield her a husband, she dreams of rain, not realizing that what she’s really dreaming of is love. Starbuck is the catalyst, helping her to see herself for the beauty she is, and making a very astute comment about his attempt to make it rain that also applies to Lizzie’s need for love: “Don’t ask questions, and don’t get sensible.” That is, sit back, be yourself, and let it happen. It applies to falling in love, to making it rain, to just about everything, really. The faithless Noah — and the word “faith” is used against him — doesn’t realize this, and his dreams, whatever they may have been, are stifled out of existence. Everybody else gets theirs.
Some parts are double cast; the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast is the one referred to in this review. Holyoak, as mentioned, makes a good Noah; he’s in both casts, as is Jeremy Anderson as the energetic but simple-minded Jimmy. Anderson plays Jimmy pretty wound up, and the energy brings life to the show — Starbuck could use that kind of energy, in fact — but it makes Jimmy seem a little two-dimensional.
Tom Lamoreaux is believable and gentle as Lizzie’s loving father, and some of their scenes together are very tender. Kim Stone Wares’ performance as Lizzie helps this tremendously. She vividly portrays the numerous emotions Lizzie feels, often in rapid succession, and endears herself to the audience immediately.
Paul Hill seems mis-cast as File, being several years older than Lizzie, and much larger. This causes a lack of chemistry between the two, and makes it hard to get behind the idea of them being together. (Matthieu Kohl plays File in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast, and having seen him in another play recently, I can tell that he is much more suited to the role — of course, I haven’t seen DeLayna Anderson, who plays Lizzie in Kohl’s cast, so I don’t know what the chemistry between them is.)
As a whole, “The Rainmaker” is enjoyable and pleasant. The message is uplifting, and there are more laughs than you might expect in a “serious” drama. It’s a celebration of humanity, and of what makes us happy. Ultimately, the power to be happy is within ourselves, and the play reminds us of that.
In the '60s, someone did a Broadway musical version of this play, called "110 in the Shade." BYU performed it in 1992, and I referred to it in a column I wrote for the Daily Herald at that time. The dialogue is almost identical in both versions. In fact, many lines that are spoken in the play wind up being part of the lyrics in the musical, which I think is rather clever. The only main difference is that File's character is fleshed out better in the musical, and a large number of townspeople are introduced, to make the show "bigger." (I.e., instead of the Currys inviting File over to their house for dinner, they invite him to the town picnic, wherever everyone will be.)
I caught some flack for saying the actor who played File was mis-cast because of his size, but it's true. He wasn't obese or anything, but he was a big Polynesian guy, and he just didn't look the part. Any casting director will tell you that looks are as important as anything else in determining who gets what part. I don't think I was out of line.