Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker
Shines in New Jersey Revival

Sam Kitchin and Tricia Burr
It just may be that you only think that you have seen N. Richard Nash's play The Rainmaker. You may have seen a production of the estimable musical version 110 in the Shade, or more likely and often, the popular movie version starring Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster. Thus, just possibly, you are so familiar with the property that, like me, you had mistakenly come to assume that you have seen it. For the record, the 1954 original Broadway production ran for 125 performances and the 1999 Roundabout Broadway revival (by way of the Williamstown Theatre Festival) ran for 99 performances. However, The Rainmaker is now back on stage at 12 Miles West in Bloomfield in a superbly acted, directed and designed production that makes it clear that the play is far superior to the histrionic, miscast film. It is a fully engaging, tightly constructed, emotionally rewarding experience that should not be missed.

The Rainmaker is set in a drought-ridden rural town in the West in Depression era America. It is the story of a pivotal hot summer day in the life of spinsterish Lizzie Curry. Lizzie keeps house for her father and two brothers on the family cattle ranch. She has just returned from a trip to visit family cousins, which was undertaken with the failed expectation that she would find a husband. The arrival of a charming con man named Starbuck promising to bring rain in exchange for $100 sets off a series of events which enable Lizzie to see herself in a new light.

Director Jason King Jones, with the aid of an outstanding cast and design team, has taken a not to be sneezed at, old fashioned, well made, romantic, crowd pleasing comedy-drama and infused it with the feel of real life to raise it to an even higher level. The pace is unhurried, the performances are naturalistic and detailed, and the large and detailed set looks actually lived in. These elements combine to root the play with a sense of reality which helps us to believe the theatricality which arrives with Starbuck's entrance forty or so minutes into the play (the movie version opens with Starbuck delivering his con to a group of townsfolk from the back of his wagon).

While portraying the despair that is creeping in on Lizzie, Tricia Burr manages to simultaneously evoke the doughty cheerfulness and enthusiasm for life which make Lizzie so beloved to her father and youngest brother. Burr employs a male ranch hand's gait which we attribute to her having always been surrounded by her father and brothers. She convincingly teeters on the edge of hysteria as she unsuccessfully tries to hide her natural intelligence and employ the coy inanities which she has seen displayed by frivolous coquettes. And, capping an exceptional performance, when Lizzie sees herself as beautiful, Burr radiates her beauty from within.

Ron Nummi's Starbuck is not so much charismatic as he is handsome and charming. His charm can only take him so far, and it is clear that his time is running out. This proves a most viable approach to the role as it is his charm, and neither his charisma nor a belief in his malarkey, which leads Lizzie's father to agree to pay him to make rain. Nummi's interpretation also facilitates his ability to bring out the humanity which makes Lizzie's transformation and Starbuck's kindness so believable.

As Lizzie's father, H.C. Curry, Mohrmann performs with an engaging, easy going, impish geniality which he subsumes when appropriate to display flashes of H.C.'s wry intelligence. As brother Noah, who has no inclination toward niceties and wants Lizzie to accept herself as plain and unmarriageable, Keith Beechey is clearly "the villain" here. However, in keeping with the naturalism of the production, Beechey might play more against type for maximum effect. As the good hearted, but none-too-smart younger brother Jim, Matt McCarthy engages our sympathy and funny bones.

Capably rounding out the cast are Sam Kitchin as File, the unhappy and socially maladroit sheriff's deputy whom the Currys would like to snare for Lizzie, and James Broderick as the Sheriff.

Set Designer Jessica Parks has taken advantage of the wide stage in 12 Mile West's upstairs theatre to keep the action close to the audience. With the principal setting, the ranch house's evocative and richly decorated parlor-dining room at the center covering most of the stage, and File's office stage right and the ranch tack room stage left, Parks is able to employ a particularly sturdy and detailed set for each of the play's three settings by not having to provide upstage space or scenic mobility for the introduction of the latter two settings.

12 Miles West's production of The Rainmaker is currently providing New Jersey audiences with an emotionally satisfying, heart warming evening in the theatre. Oh, and don't forget to bring your handkerchiefs as you are likely to have a good cry.

The Rainmaker continues performances (Thurs.-Sat. 8 P.M./Sun. 3 P.M.) through October 16, 2005 at the 12 Miles West Center for the Arts, 562 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. Box Office: 973-259-9188; online

The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash; directed by Jason King Jones
H.C. Curry………………......AL MOHRMANN
Noah Curry………………KEITH C. BEECHEY
Jim Curry………………….MATT McCARTHY
a Lizzie Curry…………………...TRICCIA BURR
File……………………………...SAM KITCHIN
Sheriff Thomas…………..JAMES BRODERICK
Bill Starbuck……………………...RON NUMMI

Photo: Sean Hennessy

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- Bob Rendell