MADISON, NJ - “The Rainmaker” is a play that speaks to the heart and done with such elegance and simplicity that it is unforgettable.
Written by N. Richard Nash, this play isn’t often performed. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte, the story is beautifully rendered by a cast that works fluidly together. It speaks so specifically to our longings and the power of transformation that it catches us unaware.
Yes, hope is very much a part of this study of a 1950s family in the drought of a western state. But when Starbuck (Anthony Marble) arrives with his con-man persona, that for $100, he can create rain and relieve the starving cattle on the farm, the family is drawn in. Marble conveys the slick showman, but with a vulnerable quality beneath his conjuring promises.
Mark Elliot Wilson as H.C. Curry, the matriarch of the family, thinks it’s worth a gamble, as nothing else is working. In a pivotal performance, he conveys the even practicality and insights about his three offspring. His older son, Noah, is skeptical, more concerned with running the farm than what-ifs that probably won’t come true. Benjamin Eakeley as Noah gives the role a difficult, a determined, uncompromising view of the dead ends that most of them face. He calls his younger brother, Jim, a stupid, vulnerable kid who is taken in by his current girlfriend. Isaac Hickox-Young provides much of the humor in his efforts to be seen and heard. Then we have Lizzie, the unmarried sister who prepares the meals and takes care of the home. Monette Magrath tries to face the reality of her circumstances and her potential future as an old maid.
But H.C. has other ideas. Curry and his sons pay a visit to File (Corey Sorenson) the deputy sheriff who is determined not to marry again. Although pretending to be a widow, it seems his first wife ran off with a school teacher and he is now divorced. Sheriff Thomas (Nick Plakias), offers a dog for him to adopt. But File turns him down. When the Curry clan arrives to invite him for dinner and perhaps a poker game, he rejects their offer.
When Starbuck arrives, everything changes. He tells Jimmy to beat the drum, H.C. to paint a white arrow away from the house and Noah to tie the mule’s back legs together. This leaves Starbuck alone with Lizzie. But she is skeptical from the beginning.
Ultimately, these two connect in a powerful, moving scene, as he tells her how pretty she is and she responds to his compliments. She, indeed, becomes lovely and appealing before our eyes. They find each other and he urges her to come away with him. In a climactic moment, File says “don’t go.” And her father reminds her ‘”you’ve been asked.” So the tension builds as Lizzie confronts Starbuck’s offer of adventure or staying with a down-to-earth suitor.
Monte has done a superb job of bringing this poetic, hopeful story to life. She also designed the set, which is a wonder of simplicity, with a living/dining area, an outside view of a windmill and sky and a side area that serves as the sheriff’s office and later a tack room at the farm. Costumes by Hugh Hanson add to the plain, daily struggle of these limited lives. Lighting by Matthew J. Weisgable and sound by Steven J. Beckel add to the sense of time and place.
This play is a balm to our frenetic, turbulent world. A visit to “The Rainmaker” is more than a treat. It’s a tribute to the wonder and beauty of life, not as it is, but as it could be. Performances continue through August 18 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.