Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play is set during the Depression on a Midwestern farm during a single summer day while a terrible drought has turned the landscape barren and threatened the survival of the livestock. It focuses on the members of the Curry family, particular daughter Lizzie, a smart woman who is on the verge of becoming an old maid since her stern ways and plain looks aren't attracting any suitors. When a dashing, handsome stranger named Bill Starbuck blows into town and offers to bring rain within 24 hours for only $100, the future is changed for the entire Curry family, particularly Lizzie.
The Rainmaker, which first premiered in 1954, features dialogue that is fresh and funny, and his characters are three-dimensional. While the play may border on the melodramatic at times with direction that's too heavyhanded or a cast not up to the subtle nature of the characters and dialogue, nothing in Tim Dietlein's delicate direction or this cast's natural performances border on being hokey or overly exaggerated. This production is double cast and at the performance I attended the Gold cast was performing.
As Lizzie, Bonnie Beus Romney delivers a beautifully understated and at times heartbreaking performance that gets to the core of the character with appropriate acting choices that allow Lizzie to unfold, open up, and, yes, even become "beautiful" before our eyes. When we first meet Lizzie, she has just returned home, frustrated and hopeless, from a trip to Sweet River where she had hoped to find a suitor with the qualities and intelligence she desires. Romney expertly achieves the exasperation that Lizzie feels and, through a layered performance, allows us to fully understand that there is much more to Lizzie than the aloof, headstrong, and opinionated woman we first meet. Once we realize that Lizzie is afraid to think she's beautiful, we truly comprehend the barriers she has put up that have distanced her from any potential romantic possibilities and caused her hopes and dreams to vanish. When Starbuck appears and Lizzie is swept up by him, Romney transforms in front of our eyes to a woman who sees her true potential. She is simply luminous in the role.
Marshall Glass has the appropriate swagger and good looks as Starbuck, the charismatic, smooth-talking showman, con artist, and loner who we clearly understand is there to take advantage of the Curry family. However, through Glass' direct and clear portrayal, we see that Starbuck also brings the entire family optimism. When Starbuck forcefully declares to Lizzie, there's no such thing as a plain woman, they're all pretty in a different way, but they're all pretty, the audience, like Lizzie, isn't quite sure to believe him or not. But, from Glass' charming and strong performance, you'll most likely succumb to Starbuck's charms, just like Lizzie and her family do.
Glass' real-life twin brother Mitchell Glass plays File, the local deputy Sherriff who is relatively new to town. Lizzie's father and brothers see him as a potential beau for Lizzie, but File has plenty of baggage, most importantly that he isn't ready for another relationship; even though he's told the entire town he's a widow, everyone has discovered that his wife left him for another man. Mitchell Glass does an excellent job in making File the hurt man who isn't about to be hurt again. Having these twin brothers, even though they have different facial hair and hair styles to set them apart, as the two potential suitors for Lizzie adds a fun dimension to the production.
The men in Lizzie's family are portrayed by a trio of actors who deliver touching and comical performances. Kyle Webb and Jared Kitch do great work as Lizzie's two brothers. Webb is a burst of nervous energy as the excitable and joyful yet slightly dim Jim, and Kitch is appropriately no-nonsense and all business-like as the cynical and always truthful Noah, even when saying the truth could prove hurtful. Clay Lawson is good, but slightly subdued, as the father of these three very different children. Also, Raymond Barcelo is excellent in a small but pivotal role as the town Sheriff.
Hale's creative aspects are sublime, with Brian Daily's set making great use of the space for the Curry home as well as the tack room where Starbuck spends the night. Tim Dietlein's lighting beautifully paints the stage with warm colors to depict the hot, humid day and deep dark blues and purples for the night. The costumes by Tia Hawkes, including the no-nonsense dresses for Lizzie and the flashy get-up for Starbuck, and Cambrian James' hair and make-up work well to take us back to the period of the play and help to further establish the individuality of the characters.
While the situations in Nash's play may be dated, the work itself holds up very well, and it is charming, humorous, heartwarming and uplifting. With rich, authentic performances and a huge amount of hope, Hale's production of The Rainmaker is like a shower of fresh, sweet rain after a long, dry summer.
Hale has implemented many safety protocols for this production, in line with both city and state requirements, including limited audience capacity, socially distanced seating, and a mask requirement for all audience members. A list of all safety requirements can be found on their website.
The Rainmaker runs through May 8, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein