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Few American plays have traveled a more circuitous path to posterity than N. Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker.” It started life in 1953 as a “Philco Television Playhouse” live-TV drama, then was turned into a stage play and, shortly thereafter, a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, subsequently serving as the basis for a hit Broadway musical, “110 in the Shade.” “The Rainmaker” remains to this day a regional-theater staple, so much so that it’s being performed this month by two of New Jersey’s top companies, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Cape May’s East Lynne Theater Company. Unable to see both versions, I tossed a coin and opted for Bonnie J. Monte’s Shakespeare Theatre production. Warm, sympathetic and richly humane, it’s one of the very best things that Ms. Monte and her marvelous company have given us, the kind of revival that causes you to realize that a play you’ve always liked is in truth an American classic….
“Coriolanus,” Shakespeare’s most explicitly political play, doesn’t get done much in New York. It’s only had one Broadway production—in 1938, for four nights—and the Public Theater’s new Shakespeare-in-the-Park outdoor version is the first time it’s been mounted in Central Park since 1979. I wonder whether this slender history might have something to do with the fact that Daniel Sullivan’s high-concept staging, performed on an apocalypse-now corrugated-tin junkyard set by a cast dressed in rags and tatters, has been received with general enthusiasm, seeing as how it doesn’t quite add up to the play Shakespeare wrote….
* * *To read my review of The Rainmaker, go here. To read my review of Coriolanus, go here.
A featurette about the Shakepeare Theatre of New Jersey revival of The Rainmaker:
A scene from the 1956 film version of The Rainmaker, directed by Joseph Anthony and starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn: