Pentacle Theatre’s latest production, The Rainmaker, written by N. Richard Nash and directed by Jo Dodge, is a delightful evening about dreams, both big and small.
In the play, two problems face the Curry family: the first is drought, which is threatening to destroy the ranch. The second is the only daughter, Lizzie, who has a drought of suitors, which is threatening to turn her into an old maid (at the undesirable age of twenty-seven). Enter Starbuck, con man and lovable rogue, who promises rain to the family and a life of adventure and romance for Lizzie.
I was tickled by performances from the entire Curry family, played by a cast of refreshing faces. Mathew Morris was pitch perfect as the earnest, enthusiastic younger brother, Jim. Jordan Mackor was suitably dour as older brother Noah, who speaks the painful truth to his family. Walter Haight played patriarch HC with a wink and a smile; truly, he is wiser than he first appears. Lauren Donovan holds the family together as “plain” sister Lizzie. Her performance is not spectacular, but in this role, it shouldn’t be. She carries herself with a quiet confidence, all wit and intelligence, but no social skills. But what makes this show is Starbuck, played with full charisma and shirtless, bad-boy charm by newcomer Ryan Downey. I care about the Curries, but the play does not take off until Starbuck’s swagger tips this family out of balance. His first speech alone makes the entire play worthwhile, and the flirtation scene between him and Lizzie is pure gold.
The production is not perfect, but my complaints are quibbles. Many of the speeches were rather presentational. The scenes on the apron felt awkwardly staged. The scenic design also struck me as odd. I think the goal here was to reflect the sparseness of the drought and the flatness of the prairie, but the overall impression was less reflective of drought and more that it was unfinished. But these details were not enough to detract from the performance for anyone who is not looking for them.
The play itself is somewhat archaic. It was written in 1954, and even then, it was set in a nostalgic past. The crux of the plot is that Lizzie is unmarried, and she’s unmarried because she’s not beautiful. All she really needs to “fix herself,” we learn, is to let her hair down and work on her personal affirmation. To enjoy the play, you have to bracket any feminist (or simply modernist) sensibilities. If you can do that, there is a lot to get out of this play: the pursuit of dreams, the value of self-confidence, and above all, the power of taking risks. As Starbuck says, “a hundred bucks is only a hundred bucks—but rain in a dry season is a sight to behold!” The Rainmaker runs through June 18.
Salem theatre has slowed down for the summer, but this town is far from dark. Check out these other local productions:
• The Cemetery Club, at Brush Creek Playhouse. Comedy. June 9–19.
• Seniors of the Sahara, at Albany Civic Theatre. Romantic comedy. June 10–25.
• Upcoming: The Wizard of Oz, at Enlightened Theatrics. July 20–Aug 28.
• Upcoming: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, at Keizer Homegrown Theatre. July 20–23.