In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I write about a Chicago revival of The Rainmaker and the New York transfer of a very important regional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s an excerpt.
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Fifteen years after his death, N. Richard Nash is forgotten save for “The Rainmaker,” his perennially popular romantic comedy about a shy spinster who falls for a con man who promises to put an end to a summertime drought—for a price. Like Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” “The Rainmaker” started out in 1953 as a “Philco Television Playhouse” live-TV drama, had a shortish Broadway run and went on to become a successful film and a regional-theater staple. Along the way it was also turned into a hit musical called “110 in the Shade” that was excellently revived on Broadway in 2007. The original play, though, hasn’t been produced there since 1999, and I wondered what Chicago’s American Blues Theater, which did a splendid job with “Side Man” earlier this season, would make of a show for which few critics now have much use. Most latter-day reviews of “The Rainmaker” dismiss it as dated. Why, then, is it still so beloved?
The answer is as direct as the play itself: “The Rainmaker” tells you what you want to hear about human nature, and does so without once putting a dramatic foot wrong. Cast it well and stage it efficiently and the results will disarm all but the most cinder-hearted of cynics—and American Blues Theater has done it right as…well, rain. Not only are ABT’s seven actors beautifully suited to their roles, but Sarah Ross’ triple-interior set makes how’d-she-do-that use of every square inch of the 90-seat theater’s stage….
“The Rainmaker” takes place on a prairie ranch where it hasn’t rained for weeks. The Curry family is wilting under the heat, and Lizzie (Linsey Page Morton), the daughter, is feeling it all the more powerfully because she’s come to the reluctant conclusion that she’s not pretty enough to snag a husband. Bill Starbuck (Steve Key), a traveling rainmaker with a smooth line of talk, begs to differ. Sure, he’s a phony, but he’s a true believer in the power of optimism to water dry souls, and in the process of mulcting the Currys out of $100, he gives Lizzie something more precious than a thunderstorm.
What is it? You can probably guess, but you won’t be quite right, which is part of the charm of “The Rainmaker”: It doesn’t cheat the audience by being blatantly obvious…
Eric Tucker’s five-actor Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has transferred to an off-Broadway house, the Pearl Theatre Company. Here’s part of what I wrote about it in this space back in June: “Not since Peter Brook’s now-legendary 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company version has there been so radically original or mysteriously poetic a production of the greatest of all stage comedies….”
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To read my review of The Rainmaker, go here.
To read my review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, go here.
A scene from the 1956 film version of The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster in the title role: