Anyone who has ever had someone show up at their door offering quick home repairs at a bargain price knows that con-men are still very much a part of our world. We may call them scammers now, but such devious tricksters have long been a part of American life and literature.
One such fast-talking fictional character who debuted on Broadway and in the movies in the 1950s has just shown up on a Portland stage in Good Theater’s production of N. Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker.”
Bill Starbuck drops in on a Western farm family who are in all kinds of distress during a prolonged drought in the 1920s. For a price, he offers to save their crops and livestock by employing his special gift for bringing rain. As the play moves along, his “powers” serve to bring something more to the family.
Importing a few actors and filling the remaining parts with talented locals, director Brian P. Allen has assembled an excellent cast for this classic play. Though their characters may be drawn from relatively simple folk, their words and actions have broader implications which each is able to convey in a distinctive and convincing manner. The play and the performers are almost perfectly matched in this charming mixture of down-home comedy and matters of the heart.
Starbuck may be an important catalyst, but the real center of the story resides in daughter Lizzie Curry. She is not quite resigned to spinsterhood but is getting closer by the day as she approaches age 30. Attempts by her all-male family members to find her a mate have been so far unsuccessful and have created a great deal of tension between all concerned as they wait out the drought.
Up-and-coming Broadway star Laurel Casillo takes the lead role and is a delight to watch as her Lizzie attempts to assert independence while harboring fears of a lifetime ahead without companionship. Lizzie’s situation and attitudes may be voiced in a pre-feminist way, but this “plain” young woman’s desire to be accepted and appreciated on her own terms (once she comes to fully realize what those are) holds contemporary appeal.
Casillo employs a lot of body language in revealing her inner turmoil and her struggle to maintain a balance in a house full of strong-willed men. Stomping about the house in anger or dallying around a tack house post with Starbuck, the young actress’s work becomes, at times, akin to a dance performance. Her immersion in the role is truly impressive and a lesson in what top-quality actors can accomplish when they embody a playwright’s words under subtle direction.
Michael Kimball takes the role of family patriarch H.C. Curry. Though all the actors approximate a Western accent, Kimball adds a bit of a stylized drawl to his as he seeks to keep his boisterous family in line. Sons Noah, played by Graham Emmons, and Jim, played by Conor Riordan Martin, are a handful for their father. Noah believes himself a realist and is quick to tamp down any expectations for Lizzie to avoid becoming an “old maid.” Jim is a goofy romantic and provides a fair amount of the comedic relief as well as some off-hand wisdom. All three actors were engaging as their characters pull at, but hold firm to, their family ties.
Max Waszak, as Starbuck, charges about the stage, tailoring his claims to fit what will go over with the Currys. His character’s urge to at least half-believe his own mythmaking becomes more desperate as he is led to reflect on his past. Waszak shows how Starbuck’s weaknesses defeat him while leading Lizzie to the important insight that life is best lived “somewhere between” dreams and reality.
Christopher Holt and Glenn Anderson fill out the cast as Deputy File and Sheriff Thomas, respectively. Anderson epitomizes a long line of semi-comic theater lawmen while Holt is able to effectively communicate a withdrawn man’s struggle to reconnect with life.
The finely detailed set, designed by Stephen Underwood, allows for the three locations of the play’s action to co-exist across a broadened stage. This and all the other technical aspects of the play support the actors in this production that will likely have enthusiastic applause raining down upon it throughout its run.
WHAT: “The Rainmaker” by Good Theater
WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St, Portland
REVIEWED: Oct. 2; continues through Oct. 19
INFO: 207-885-5883; goodtheater.com