The Rainmaker’s story is one that is extremely familiar. On a Dust Bowl cattle ranch, the Curry family faces the brink of economic ruin. Widower H.C. Curry (Jim Mitchell), a tender patriarch, runs his ranch and his family with the help of his oldest son, Noah (Jonathan Hite). In addition to the drought and the economic problems the family faces, they also have to worry about the one woman in the Curry brood, daughter Lizzie (Katie Matthews). She is now in her early twenties and unmarried; she faces a life of spinsterhood. Despite numerous attempts to introduce Lizzie to young beaux, her plain demeanor and outspoken nature have served as an obstacle to her matrimonial goals. Into this situation steps a mysterious drifter, Bill Starbuck (James Bryan), a blowhard who promises he can bring much needed rain. Despite the objections of Noah and Lizzie, H.C. pays the stranger one hundred dollars (a fortune to a Dust Bowl rancher) to bring the promised rain; but, maybe, he pays him as a last chance to find love for his lonely daughter. Unbeknownst to the Currys, Starbuck is a wanted man, and is pursued by the town’s kindly Sheriff (Tom O’Reilly), and his deputy, File (John Sullivan).
Director Carolyn Collings has staged the play extremely well, buoyed as it is by an ensemble giving–for the most part–wonderful performances. Jim Mitchell is warm and funny as the patriarch. Jonathan Hite, rather too old for his role as the eldest son, plays the role well; and doesn’t try to play it younger, which is wise. Joel Palilla as Jim, the youngest son whose comedic subplot involves his courting a “fast” local girl, plays his role with just the right touch of “Gee golly!” innocence that make his performance a highlight of this production. Tom O’Reilly gives an excellent performance as the Sheriff, slowly drawling his way through folksy sayings. John Sullivan is touching and vulnerable as File, who may be Lizzie’s last chance at love.
Katie Matthews and John Sullivan
Katie Matthews as Lizzie is a revelation. She is an actress of relative inexperience. Her program bio lists two previous shows; ensemble in LTN’s Next to Normal, and a featured role in LTVB’s Follies last summer. However, she brings to her role a mature and nuanced performance that is, at turns, both hilarious and heartbreaking. She is a naturally gifted actress, and I look forward to seeing more of her in future seasons.
James Bryan, absurdly miscast in the role of Starbuck, is a performer who has been very good in other productions. Here, however, he delivers a self-consciously wooden performance. Starbuck is a con man; a person who rips people off of money by selling them a dream. Watching this production, one wonders why the Currys would pay this man one hundred dollars for anything. He’s not a very good salesman; but, perhaps, he realizes how ridiculous he looks in his costume, a navy blue cowboy ensemble that looks like something a first grader might wear for Halloween. This costume is the one low note in an otherwise excellent design by Kay Burcher.
LTVB’s production features a stunning scenic design by Nicholas Thornburg, which encapsulates three locations and is well used by director Carolyn Collings. If it maybe looks a bit more wild west than Dust Bowl farm, it is nonetheless stunning. Carolyn Thatcher brings her customary expertise to the lighting design, which adds beautiful, nuanced emotion to the proceedings.
The Rainmaker is a lovely play: touching and funny. LTVB’s production is nearly perfect. But, in spite of its imperfections, provides a compelling and charmingly old fashioned evening of entertainment. It is a joy to see this old warhorse of a play being produced again, and in such a lovely and warm production. Those looking for a charming and agreeable evening of theater should make the trip to LTVB this weekend.
Here comes the rain again. The Rainmaker plays at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach through Sunday. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $14-17. Reservations are strongly recommended. Reservations can be made by calling LTVB’s reservation hotline (757-428-9233), or through their website.