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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Rainmaker

Also see Susan's review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Rainmaker
Johanna Day and
Michael Laurence

Johanna Day gives a luminous performance as Lizzie Curry in the production of N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmakernow at Washington’s Arena Stage. Day grows as she depicts the character’s journey from a strong, determined, straight-shooting young woman who fears she will never find love without losing her individuality to one who understands her genuine beauty, both internal and external. Somehow, even the planes of her face seem to soften in the transformation.

Her performance is well matched by those of Frank Wood as File, the laconic deputy sheriff who has trouble expressing himself, and William Parry as the kind father who believes getting Lizzie married is the best thing for her. Graham Winton is appropriately brusque and hard-headed as Lizzie’s older brother Noah, who considers himself the one realist in a family of dreamers, and Ben Fox is sweet as naïve younger brother Jim. The one problem with this Rainmaker happens to be, in fact, the rainmaker himself.

The character of Starbuck in Nash’s 1954 romantic comedy is larger than life, a swaggering fellow who has to dominate the proceedings as soon as he enters. (Darren McGavin originated the role on Broadway, and Burt Lancaster played it in the 1956 film version.) Perhaps director Lisa Peterson was trying for a less overtly macho characterization with her casting of the more easy-going Michael Laurence, but his interpretation just doesn’t work with the material.

Laurence’s Starbuck is thin and shaggy-haired, almost a proto-hippie in his filthy coat and seedy multi-colored vest. He clearly isn’t the success he tells people he is. While he has charm, it isn’t the kind that would sweep away people in its wake, convincing Jim to believe in himself and forcing Noah to accept, reluctantly, that faith has its place alongside certainty. And, while his scenes with Lizzie play well enough, they don’t have the crackle of her scenes with File; Wood is a master of subtext, conveying the things File can’t say through facial expressions and posture.

Michael Yeargan’s ingenious set starts out as wide open and vast as the show’s parched, wind-swept plains, but (since this is Arena) surprises soon start appearing in the least expected places. The lighting design by James F. Ingalls adds to the sense of an oppressive sun beating down, and Ilona Somogyi’s costumes pick up the theme as well. The characters begin their day in dusty shades of tan and khaki, only adding tentative color as the day progresses and the magic of hope comes into play.

Arena Stage
The Rainmaker
March 3rd – April 9th
By N. Richard Nash
H.C. Curry: William Parry
Noah Curry: Graham Winton
Jim Curry: Ben Fox (March 3-19) or Jesse Hooker (March 21-April 9)
Lizzie Curry: Johanna Day
File: Frank Wood
Sheriff Thomas: Delaney Williams
Bill Starbuck: Michael Laurence
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage, Sixth and Maine avenues S.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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