“The Rainmaker,” now on the main stage of the GCC auditorium, is a fresh revival of Richard Nash’s 1954 Broadway hit. What’s more, it also a laudable hit for the college’s theater arts department.
The drama, which is set in a desperately dry Midwestern farmland, centers around a struggling ranch family consisting of widower H.C. Curry (John Dunlap), his two sons, Noah (Nick Campbell) and Jim (Mike Lee), and their plain sister Lizzie (Alex Wooten).
Lizzie, convincingly acted by Wooten, finds herself heading towards spinsterhood and is, according to her family, frantically needing to get married.
As her family’s attempts to find a husband for the intelligent, but unlady-like, Lizzie fail, the mysterious Starbuck (Benton Eshoei), who calls himself “the rainmaker,” bursts onto the stage. For a fee of $100, he promises to bring rain to the family’s drought-stricken land.
Noah and Lizzie are skeptical of the deal, until Starbuck, the visionary conman, persuades Lizzie that she is a beautiful, vital woman capable of attaining all her dreams.
During the last minutes of the final act, Lizzie blooms into full beauty and the family’s dry land is suddenly visited by a surprising downpour of life-bringing rain, symbolizing the play’s underlying theme of renewal and hope.
With actor Eshoei, director Mary Sullivan found a powerful rainmaker. Though this production marks Eshoei’s first public performance, his compassionate acting brings great vitality to the play.
Through his gestures and commanding speech, Eshoei evokes vivid pictures of rolling thunderstorms, splashing showers and delicate raindrops. Starbuck’s elaborate conjuring of rain captivates the audience’s imagination.
Likewise, in the final act when he convinces Lizzie that she is as beautiful as any other woman, the audience particular the women can hardly help holding their breath. His line “Lizzie, you’re afraid of being beautiful” pulls at the heartstrings.
Acting the part of the unappreciated and awkward Lizzy, Wooten skillfully displays her character’s transformation.
In choosing Lee, an Asian, to play the younger son, Jim, Sullivan not only found a strong actor but also fulfilled the theater art department’s policy of “non-traditional casting,” adding to the already racially mixed cast and enhancing the universal appeal of the play.
Also persuasive in his role is Nick Campbell, who has acted in previous GCC productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Odd Couple.”
He is just right as the controlling, skeptical and almost bitter older brother Noah, of whom his father says “You’re so full of what’s right that you don’t know what’s good.”
Whether with his hands in his pocket determining the family’s finances and affairs, hanging up on his younger brother’s phone call or striding bossily down the stage, Campbell conveys Noah’s obsession with rules and disregard for the feelings of others.
The play’s set design is simple and at the same time expressive and effective.
With the old farmhouse’s living room, combined kitchen and narrow sheriff’s office, the set is simple in its rustic style.
Having directed several plays at GCC (“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” “Our Town” and “Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls”), Sullivan, who has been nominated to the American College Theater Festival for her directing and lighting design, made careful choices of detail and convincing transitions.
Calmly underlying the plot, the music is simple and unobtrusive.
It’s nostalgic style uses guitar and mouth organ to weave in melodies like “You Are My Sunshine.” Powerful thunder effects are created by drum rolls. The masterful lighting effectively focuses the audience’s attention.
In addition to its well-chosen cast, skillfully designed set, effective lighting design and first-rate acting, “The Rainmaker” creates a warm but thoughtful atmosphere and leaves the audience with a fresh perspective on love, beauty, life, hope and the importance of daring to trust.
Dialogue that reveals the character weaknesses of Lizzie, Noah, the father, the sheriff and even the rainmaker, challenges viewers to reconsider basic issues in brother-brother, man-woman, and child-father relationships.
This mid-20th century drama was made into a 1956 movie with Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster and translated into some 40 languages. Yet it is still relevant for today’s society and remains an uplifting and thoughtful play.
From the opening of the curtain to the powerful ending, “The Rainmaker” offers up moving drama and intimate humor.
Rainmaker continues through Sunday. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $6 for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased at the door or reserved in advance. Call 818-240-1000, ext. 5618.
Rating * * * * (out of four)