Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Rainmaker
Timely Classic Filled with Heart & Humor
San Jose Stage Company

Also see Richard's reviews of Do I Hear a Waltz? and Ideation

Johnny Moreno and Allison F. Rich
N. Richard Nash made his mark in entertainment fields with numerous award-winning plays, screenplays, and novels, but undoubtedly his most memorable and lasting of all his work is The Rainmaker, a sweet comedy with serious themes of hope, faith and identity. San Jose Stage opens its 32nd season with a bang-up production, one sure to please those who love this classic and happily introduce others to an iconic American play.

H.C. Curry (Randall King) and his three adult children—Noah (Will Springhorn Jr.), Lizzie (Allison F. Rich), and Jim (Brandon Leland)—are suffering a cattle-killing drought, worrying what will happen to their family farm if the dry spell continues. At the same time, H.C. worries about Lizzie's fate as she seems unmarriageable: She's smart, too smart for her own good perhaps, a straight talker with common sense and no nonsense, and some would call her plain. Having grown up with men, she knows how to cook for them but not how to flatter or woo them; a recent visit to snag a cousin proved a dismal failure.

Sheriff's deputy File (Joe Estlack) may or may not be interested, but attempts to reel him in with a good meal go sour, leaving Lizzie high and dry again. Lizzie's metaphorical drought and the actual drought get the promise of relief in a traveling, slick-talking miracle man named Starbuck (Johnny Moreno) who appears from nowhere and offers a deal: For $100 he'll make it rain. In a bit of crazy wisdom, H.C. decides to take the deal, much to the chagrin of both Noah and Lizzie. And it turns out that the Sheriff (Michael Bellino) and File are also on the hunt for a traveling con man reported to be passing through their area.

Some of the rest is predictable storytelling, but Nash has a few surprises up his sleeve, and even goes against the common mores of his time with his modern heroine. Her quest for love and her "small dreams" might seem old-fashioned; but her refusal to compromise who she is and her eventual discoveries are contemporary and timeless.

Rich makes a terrific Lizzie, utterly believable and sympathetic, mired in dashed hopes and resignation until Starbuck triggers a transformation. Moreno's Starbuck seems rather small at first, but he rises to his role and comes through in the second half. King manages to stay real, in spite of delivering a lot of homespun wisdom, and plays a good counterpoint opposite Springhorn's hard-nosed Noah. Leland is a delight as little brother Jimmy, going through his own coming-of-age transformation. Estlack is excellent and solid as the reticent File, another character with a life-changing leap of faith.

Director Jessa Brie Moreno brings out the humor in the play and keeps the staging lively. The set by Giulio Perrone manages to morph into several different spaces with relative ease, unified by a parched floor and hay-bale walls. David Gotlieb's lighting design adds beautiful backdrop and atmosphere; his tack-room moonlight is positively gorgeous.

Overall, it's a lovely and faithful rendition of the play, reminding us of its enduring values and deserved place in the American playwriting canon. The strong cast and first-rate production get the Stage's season off to a superb start.

The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash; presented by San Jose Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose, through October 26, 2014. Tickets $25 - $50, available at 408-283-7142 or at

Photo: Dave Lepori

- Jeanie K. Smith