By Lynn Geyer
Lakewood Playhouse has turned in some fine entertainment this season – in fact, “The Children’s Hour” and “The Woman in Black” were both wonderful shows in all aspects of the word.
However, the theatre’s current production, “The Rainmaker,” by N. Richard Nash, has the previous offerings of the season topped in almost all respects.
This is a simple story of common people who live simple lives. When it’s time to change their lives, some can’t see how to do so – some can but are afraid to try.
It’s summer in the southwest. It’s 110o in the shade and there’s no sign of a cloud in the sky. The Curry family, widowed father H.C., older son Noah, who runs the ranch, and younger son Jim, who Noah deems is “stupid,” are happy about the return home of spinster daughter Lizzie, who has been sent to visit shirt-tail relatives in the nearby big city in hopes she will finally find a husband.
Lizzie’s return is welcome but her hopes of love are less than before her trip. She is resigned to dying an “old Maid” as Noah heartlessly, though realistically, calls her. The males of the household convince Lizzie she may have a chance to hook Deputy Sheriff File, who purports to be a widower, though he is, in fact, divorce, whose wife ran off and left him gun-shy of marriage. Lizzie finally agrees to inviting File for dinner with hopes it will turn into a life-long relationship.
On the scene appears a flamboyant traveling con man, Starbuck, who promises to bring rain to the parched land and, eventually, love to the shriveling woman – all for the one-time fee of $100.
Against Noah’s advice, H. C. agrees to the Rainmaker’s promise. File refuses the invitation. Lizzie is fair fodder for forging with Starbuck. The Sheriff and File come to arrest Starbuck. Lizzie starts to run away with the flim-flam artist. File says, “Don’t go,” and we have a whole new world along with cooling rains.
The Playhouse has removed some 30 seats from the usual intimate central staging theatre and configured the seating in an el-shape, running the set across the whole south side of the stage leaving the north and west wall to seat the audience.
This enormous set, which is expertly designed by Judy Cullen, depicts a typical south-western ranch house of the dustbowl era. The sprawling living/dining room take up most of the ranch’s set with just the promise of a kitchen off stage left.
The highlight of the set is the cut-away wall, which allows the audience to view the outside of the front of the house by looking directly at the action before the door knock is answered.
An additional room is attached to the set stage right, which at first appears to be another part of the ranch house but turns out to be the sheriff’s office in town. This isn’t quite clear until action takes place therein then it works.
Niclas R. Olson’s lighting design is right on as are the costumes done by Diane Runkel. John Burton’s sound puts the audience in the mood for the show.
Director Casi Wilkerson has done an excellent job with her cast. They have developed their characters beautifully with understanding and mixed with just enough crazy nonsense to make the subtle comedy of the play outlandishly funny.
Of course, Wilkerson made terrific choices for her cast.
Ernie Heller is the Sheriff of the small town. Heller plays the lawman with true knowledge of the role; in the real world, Heller is a Lakewood Municipal Court Judge. The part fits him like a glove.
His deputy, File, is played by Jed Slaughter. File’s job is to help the sheriff uphold the law; his avocation is keeping single and away from the Curry spinster. Slaughter does both jobs nicely.
Mason Quinn plays the exuberant Jim with wide-eyed innocence and wonder like he still would put a dropped tooth under his pillow expecting the Tooth Fairy to leave a quarter for him.
Jacob Tice makes Noah the hard-boiled business man he should be but succumbs to warmth of character in the end, inviting the audience to really like him – and they do.
Elliot Weiner is wonderful as the father, now widowed, who finally realizes his years of lack of interest in his young daughter, has left her alone and old and he must do all he can to repent.
Bruce Story makes the audience know he is a scoundrel and charlatan but also makes them believe in him and his magic.
Tanya Barber is outstanding as Lizzie, the resigned Old Maid who is given a new life. Barber calls Lizzie “plain” and plain she is. However, after Lizzie successfully pursues Starbuck, Barber blossoms and literally glows with beauty – a memorable performance.
“The Rainmaker” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through May 12, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursdays, April 25 and an Actor’s Benefit performance at the same time Thursday, May 2.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
“The Rainmaker” is one of those plays which renews one’s faith in the unbelievable. Miracles can happen – if you see things with not your eyes, but with your heart.