“The Rainmaker” Opens to Thunderous Applause at the Edgemar Center
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Henry Jaglom and The Rainbow Theatre Company in association with Edgemar Center for the Arts presented N. Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker”. The play harks back to 1954 when it opened in New York and ran for 125 performances with Geraldine Page and Darren Mc Gavin. In 1956, it became the well-known film starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn. Its next incarnation was the musical “110 In The Shade” which was revived in 1999-2000 with Woody Harrelson and Jayne Atkinson. This electrifying production demands you release memories of the smooth talking Lancaster and the great Hepburn to appreciate this revival directed to perfection by Jack Heller. Once you let go of any past memories, this production, with the fine ensemble cast of seven actors is simply stellar. This “Rainmaker” makes for a dynamic and enjoyable evening of very fine theatre. I was blissfully transported into another time.
This three act play is set in 1937 in the drought ridden Midwest on the Curry’s farm. Lizzie, so well brought to life by Tanna Frederick, is a lonely would-be spinster. Lizzie is “plain as old shoes” and has no idea how to use feminine wiles to ensnare a man. She is also opinionated and outspoken. It doesn’t help that she is surrounded by three males in her two brothers, the ornery Noah (David Garver), the slow well-meaning Jim (Benjamin Chamberlain), and her quiet father, H. C. (Stephen Howard). The problems are the drought, which is killing cattle, and the dearth of potential husbands, which is killing Lizzie. Lizzie has come home, with her tail between her legs, because the only proposal she got in Sweetwater was from her nine year old cousin. She is afraid to think she is beautiful when she is not. Older brother, Noah , so well-acted by Garver, likes to tell it as it is. As such he is the killer of dreams. Granted, he doesn’t want to hurt his sister, but his way of hitting hard with his truth presents a bleak and hopeless picture for Lizzie. He tells her to face the reality that she is plain and will be a spinster, an old maid.
Noah isn’t one to cut anyone any slack. His younger brother, Jim is slow. But, Noah constantly tells him he is dumb, which angers the kid. Jim,as played by Chamberlain seemed behaviorally challenged. Jim was awkward and loud, energetic but, albeit, endearing. Noah also blames his father and faults how H. C. raised Lizzie. Noah is the self-sacrificing older brother with too much on his plate. He has taken on the role of ranch manager and also manager of the whole family. He seems to both relish and resent being the father figure. Noah is in control and controlling until the mild and agreeable H. C. finally steps in.
Life is more than a ledger. It is more than balancing books. Things continue to unravel when con artist Starbuck bursts on the scene, and he literally does burst in as the family is ready to sit down to dinner. There is a vacant seat. The one eligible, unmarried man, Deputy File (Scott Roberts) has stood Lizzie up. "I want to be friendly; not married." Opportunist, seller of dreams, and rainmaking, Starbuck fills the seat. He moves right on in. Robert Standley’s Starbuck is a poet, but a noisy one. He gives a hard sell to his rainmaking scheme. While he sells dreams, he is not a subtle “dream weaver”. So, forget Burt Lancaster’s performance, which was a little smoother, more poetic, and in Standley’s interpretation, we see a real con artist who is a loud, oily, and desperate snake charmer. At times, he seems to be acting, but that may be the nature of his character who has too much bravado. “There is a drought ahead of me, but when I leave, there is rain.” His enthusiasm sells H. C. to invest $100 for the promise of rain.
He works his magic on the family dynamic and interferes. And, in his interference, he heals those lost souls of Jim and Lizzie. He tells Lizzie, “You don’t even believe you’re a woman” as she talks “man-to-man to him. He may not get rain, lightning and thunder, but he works his brand of magic to build self-esteem. He sees strength in Jim and his insight gives Jim the permission to be his own man. And, in a very moving scene, Starbuck sees beauty in the plain Lizzie as Lizzie comes to see her own beauty reflected in Starbuck’s eyes. Con artist or not, his charismatic presence makes a difference. No one will be quite the same after experiencing Starbuck. And, in a way, Lizzie makes an impact with her direct truth-telling to Starbuck. She sees something in him other than a con man. Maybe he also will see his own goodness. Love changes people. Beautiful or plain, Lizzie insists she will be “Lizzie” and not Starbuck’s made up image of Melisande. ‘Starbuck, you said the wrong thing.”
Tanna Frederick does a beautiful job in bringing all the shadings to her Lizzie. She is the plain, sad waif-like girl, and the painfully awkward person who has not claimed her womanhood. Lizzie is painfully honest and ruins every opportunity. In her Lizzie, we see her strength with blatent honesty, and her weakness and lack of self-esteem. But, Lizzie is desperately determined to have love, even if only for five minutes. Fredericks made an amazing leap in the scene in which she seduced Starbuck. We saw the pain and the steely resolve.
I have seen Frederick’s work in “Sylvia,” which I loved, in “Just 45 Minutes Over Broadway”, and “Why We Have A Body”. In “Rainmaker” Fredericks reins herself in and gives subtle transitions and the depth necessary for this drama to unfold. As she sashays her “stuff”, in a delightfully funny scene as the town hussy, Lillian Beasley, we see her familiar comedic chops. Much of the emotion was conveyed in her silences and inward glances to her character’s soul. Frederick’s performance was excellent, subtle at the right times, and divine. Director Jack Heller, who has worked with Fredericks as an actor, is to be credited with fine directorial choices.
Scott Roberts’ Deputy File is equally wounded, and the scene in which he and Lizzie try to exchange small talk is painful and funny. He is perfect for Lizzie, but far too wounded and reclusive. He can’t even accept Sheriff Thomas’ offer of a dog as a companion. Everything and everyone he loves leaves. He lives under the safety net of being a “widower”. He has secrets that will be revealed. Will he give Lizzie the opportunity to heal him? Roberts was very convincing and even in his shyness, likeable. He brought a lot to his character. Sheriff Thomas, (Ralph Guzzo) has taken a shine to File and Guzzo also was credible and convincing as a father figure to File.
Stephen Howard had played the role of hard-headed Noah when he was younger and has aged into the role of the patriarch of the clan. He was so very real and natural in an understated way. Great job.
The set by Christopher Stone gave the actors a realistic and spacious place to move about in. He had a big open room with a round table, chairs, sheer curtains, a hutch, a back porch, the tack room, kitchen entryway, sheriff’s office, and it worked so beautifully to serve as the rustic farm-home in the Midwest. Both Juliet Klancher’s lovely lighting effects and Noah Calvin’s realistic sound design enhanced this production.
“The Rainmaker” is a lovely story which transcends time. Our plain and opinionated women are called strong and the term “old maid” is from another time. Our women have the choice to marry or to be career women or both. But in times as ours, we all look to some guru to lead us out of our negativity, someone to show us the silver lining in the dark sky. Starbuck shines a klieg light into the darkness. Standley’s Starbuck doesn’t charm us as much as startle us into believing. He is as noisy as a clap of thunder. And, maybe with that cacophony of sound, he will be able to transform all, even himself.
“The Rainmaker” runs through March 24th at Edgemar Center for the Arts at 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica, 90405, CA. For tickets and show times, call 310-392-7327. Admission is $34.99 with a few seats available at $25.00. There is convenient underground parking for $6:00.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”and in a new “Greenlight Financial.”
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next class starts January 10th. For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com To register call 310-285-6850 M-F 9am-4PM.
The class in for 8 weeks @ $118 from 6:45-9:15 PM ($5 materials fee payable to instructor first night).