Also see Bill's review of The Old Globe Shakespeare Festival
Hope and hopelessness engage in an unfair debate in the Old Globe's revival of N. Richard Nash's play The Rainmaker. You know that hope will win in the end, even when hopelessness is portrayed as being "realistic."
The advent of realism as eliminating the need for hope was certainly blossoming in 1954 when the Broadway production of The Rainmaker bowed. The various wars were over, the U.S. economy was booming, advances in technology promised to improve life quickly (as would be illustrated by Walt Disney's influential short film "Our Friend the Atom"), and hordes of men in grey flannel suits braved long daily commutes to city office jobs so their families could enjoy newly-blossoming suburban life. Life was hopeful and good was real.
Nash's audience could enjoy looking back to the struggles of the Depression era, confident that "it couldn't happen here" (and especially now).
The plot focuses on the Curry family, widower H. C. (John Judd) and his three adult children, Noah (Peter Douglas), Jim (Kyle Harris), and Lizzie (Danielle Skraastad). The Curry men operate a cattle ranch, and a lengthy drought has brought many of the cattle to their kneesand the ranch is getting there, too.
Yet, H. C. in particular seems more focused on making certain his daughter finds a suitable husband than on any of these other problems. There aren't many eligible men in the area, outside of his sons, and there is a supply of women in town who are poised to reel in any man who looks like a prospect. A young woman named Snookie, who drives a fast car and wears a red hat, seems to have that cap set on Jim (who, while not the brightest bulb, is nevertheless very enthusiastic about the prospect). A trip by Lizzie to visit a family in a nearby town with several unmarried sons has been unproductive, and deputy sheriff File (Tug Coker) makes it clear that he is a man who is determined to live his life alone.
Noah, the realist of the family, talks openly that his sister is "plain" and will never find a husband.
Enter Bill Starbuck (Gbenga Akinnagbe), a con man being sought by File and his boss Sheriff Thomas (Herbert Siguenza). Starbuck's cons rely on hopehope that his smooth-talking ways are not indicative of a liar at work, hope that his promises will come true. Starbuck comes promising to make rain (for a fee, of course), but the hope he projects draws Lizzie to him.
Director Maria Mileaf seems to view the contrast between realism and hope to be represented by her characters, and she encourages each member of the cast to play hope or realism in a distinctive way. The result is a blend of performance styles that work, even though you might find it odd that they do. And it's easy to guffaw at what passes for reality, especially in terms of expectations for courtship, sexual expression, and attitudes toward marriage that 1950s audiences probably found to be merely quaint.
So, hope wins, as you undoubtedly knew it would, and even the excellent design elements (Neil Patel's scenic design, Katherine Roth's monochromatic costumes, Japhy Weidman's variety of big-sky lighting, and Bart Fasbender's upbeat musical interludes during scene changes) support the hopeful condition. In a cynical age where "reality" is what we call a particularly puerile genre of television, it is nice to see audiences rooting for those whose only option is hope.
Performs through August 11, 2013, on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting the Old Globe's website, at www.oldglobe.org.
The Old Globe presents The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash. Directed by Maria Mileaf, with scenic design by Neil Patel, costume design by Katherine Roth, lighting design by Japhy Weidman, and sound design by Bart Fasbender.
The cast includes Gbenga Akinnagbe (Bill Starbuck), Tug Coker (File), Peter Douglas (Noah Curry), Kyle Harris (Jim Curry), John Judd (H. C. Curry), Herbert Siguenza (Sheriff Thomas) and Danielle Skraastad (Lizzie Curry).