By N. Richard Nash
Fig Theatre Company
Director ? Jim Grant
Producer ? Steve James
Technical Director ? Bill Grona
Assistant Director ? Juli Erickson
Set Design ? Steve James
Lighting Design ? Ed Snyder
Backdrop Artist ? Jenny Tucker
H.C. Curry ? Dennis West
Noah Curry ? Jason Bee
Jim Curry ? Sam Swenson
Lizzie Curry ? Jenny Tucker
File ? Korey Duke
Sheriff Thomas ? Jim Grant
Bill Starbuck ? Steve Iwanski
Reviewed Performance 3/2/2012
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
N. Richard Nash?s The Rainmaker is presented by Fig Theatre Company with unique earnestness and reverence to a family tale of faith, dreams, and renewed self-worth. The performance doesn?t always hit its mark but proves that the 1954 classic play is worthy of a revival and is still prevalent today.
Fig Theatre Company is an extension of the Adult/Fellowship Ministry at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas. The company has produced one or two plays a year since the mid 1990s, often selecting material ripe for religious, ethical, and moral discussion, most notably with John Patrick Shanley?s Doubt.
The Rainmaker?s set design by Steve James immediately invites the audience to feel drawn into the story before the play even begins. It exposes a charmingly rustic family kitchen, bordered by two additional rooms: a sheriff?s office and a stable. The kitchen is purposely left with no walls? only a screen door and window pane, all of it overshadowed by a simple and earthy skyline back drop, painted by Jenny Tucker, revealing the gloomy drought in a West Plains town of the Depression era. The skyline lingers over the town as a symbol of unrealized dreams.
The Curry family is without a mother but older sister Lizzie fills in that void. Lizzie runs the household for her father, H.C. ?Pops?, and her older and younger brothers, Noah and Jim. Noah is rigid and structured, runs the family cattle ranch and aligns in solidarity with Lizzie. Together they deal with their idealistic father who still has hopes that his daughter will one day marry, and also Noah, young and na?ve in love. The Curry family?s lives are put into a tailspin with the sudden introduction of the charming yet mysterious stranger Bill Starbuck, who for $100 promises them rain in 24 hours, ending their drought.
Director Jim Grant assembles a cast that is well selected with no one member being miscast. The end result of each performance, however, is varied with some actors overplaying or underplaying their hand a bit.
Jason Bee, as Noah, plays a fine villain to Lizzie, who suffers to lose the most if she marries. Mr. Bee is very natural in the opening passages, playing every line with a straight-laced dead pan nature. It is the later passages where I had trouble sympathizing with his character when he reveals to Lizzie that he doesn?t believe she is pretty enough to marry. He speaks with such a built up rage, coming across so mean-spirited, that his character never truly feels resolved. We never get to see the realized intention that Noah simply doesn?t wish for Lizzie to get hurt.
Dennis West in the role of ?Pops? strikes just the right tone of an anything goes father, dispensing random paternal wisdom, wanted or not.
Sam Swenson as Jim has a molasses charm that is very entertaining, and offers a nice contrast to the more serious family members.
Lizzie is arguably one of the most difficult roles for an actress to take on. Any actress that accepts the role must be extremely comfortable in her own skin, because in so doing an actress is also accepting that an audience could conceivably believe that she is simply not pretty. Lizzie is lovingly played by Jenny Tucker. She convincingly plays the character of a lone woman in a house of men. Her line delivery has a suitable underlying world-weariness to it that starts to become a bit one note? that is until her revealing and climactic scene with Bill Starbuck where she begins to embrace the idea of her natural inner and outer beauty.
Steve Iwanski plays the polarizing Bill Starbuck. Mr. Iwanski is a revelation, playing a character that could easily run off the rails in lesser hands. When Iwanski inhabits a scene, every performance of the Curry family is elevated to a new level. His sustained and controlled energy allows those scenes to flow naturally, yet are also delightfully unpredictable.
Starbuck?s monologue of why he continues his rainmaking cons must be sincere and earn the audience?s sympathy in order for the rest of the plot development to work. Iwanski does not disappoint but not everything ends so neat and tidy in this production.
The key relationship between the local deputy and Lizzie lacks chemistry. Korey Duke, who plays File, the deputy, never conveys or suggests any sort of interest or pining towards Lizzie that is necessary early on. His character is unbelievably sour and bitter and the performer never explores any other facet that allows him to be a viable option over Bill Starbuck for Lizzie.
It is this relationship that causes me to be perplexed about this production of The Rainmaker. Yes, Bill Starbuck helps Lizzie open her eyes about herself just before he leaves for good. She opens her eyes just long enough to see the only available man in her small town. Too bad he?s a sour puss.
It may seem that I?m being too hard on a minor character but the audience needs to be able to root for File and Lizzie, or at least have some hope. In this case, unfortunately, the moment rings a final false impression in a play that up until that point has been generous with at least a dozen moments of truth to take from it.
Fig Theatre Company
Church of the Transfiguration, 14115 Hillcrest Road
Dallas, TX 75254
Runs through March 11th
Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $12 for adults, $5 for children.
For tickets email email@example.com