“The Rainmaker” is a funny and surprisingly touching romantic comedy

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Scene in
Scene in "The Rainmaker" with Isaac Hickox, Monette Magrath., Anthony Marble, and Mark Elliot Wilson. All Photos by Joe Guerin.

Shakespeare Theatre production is well done

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey continues its hit season with their current production of N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker, currently playing at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison. This is one of those rare plays that knows what it wants to say and does so, simply and entertainingly. It touches the heart, an achievement few plays manage. It is a production for a summer evening’s enlightenment, one well worth your attention.

Scene from "The Rainmaker" with Monette Magrath toasting Benjamin Eakeley.
“The Rainmaker” with Monette Magrath toasting Benjamin Eakeley. Photos by Joe Guerin.

Nash’s 1954 play takes place in a small town along the Texas-Oklahoma border, in the summer during a drought. Lizzie Curry (Monette Magrath) has all but given up hope of finding a husband, let alone love. She keeps house for her father, H.C. (Mark Elliot Wilson) and her two brothers, Noah (Benjamin Eakeley) and Jim (Iassc Hickox-Young) who own and run a cattle ranch. After Lizzie returns from an unsuccessful husband-hunting trip in another town, the Curry men set their sights on deputy sheriff File (Corey Sorenson) who, despite his position in town, has kept himself apart from the townspeople.

Arriving at the Curry farm is Starbuck (Anthony Marble), a vagrant who claims the power of making it rain. H.C., against Noah’s better judgment, gives Starbuck $100 in advance to make it rain within 24 hours. Starbuck’s presence puts cracks in the placid veneer of the Curry family as he encourages Lizzie and Jim to break away from Noah’s “practical” views of their hopes and dreams. When File and Sheriff Thomas (Mick Plakias) come to the farm to arrest Starbuck, the Currys are forced to decide if they will turn the rainmaker over to the law.

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The Currys take some time before cohering as a believable family. But the motivations for their later actions are clearly set forth from the beginning. Noah, burdened with running the ranch, retreats behind a frustrated realism, his disappointments shunted onto what he considers the foolish members of his family. H.C. tries to dispense fatherly advice and affection, not afraid to appear foolish in order to convey the wisdom of his experience. Jim, considered an idiot by Noah, pursues the town floozie with exuberant flights of hormone-fueled fancy. Lizzie, aware that her menfolk are trying to get her married off, retreats behind a wall of hurt, stubborn defeat. Meanwhile, File’s revelation of his own embarrassing secret arises too quickly too early in the play. It’s his first painful step out of his self-imposed isolation from the community. But these are minor flaws, easily overlooked.

Scene in "The Rainmaker" with Monette Magrath and Anthony Marble
Scene in “The Rainmaker” with Monette Magrath and Anthony Marble. Photo by Joe Guerin.

Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte’s sensitive direction of the cast fully mines both the comedy and the deep emotional currents in The Rainmaker. The emotional core of the show is Monette Magrath’s luminous performance as Lizzie. She captures the many facets of this woman with such searing honesty that it’s sometimes painful to watch her. But watch her you must, and Ms. Magrath’s talent never allows her to make a wrong turn. In support of her, the other actors rise to their own levels of artistic honesty, and the play becomes a warm and glowing thing filling the theatre space and embracing the audience.

The efforts of the director and cast are helped by the scenic design, also done by Bonnie J. Monte; the almost cinematic lighting of Matthew J. Weisgable; the evocative sound design of Steven L. Beckel; and Hugh Hanson’s costumes, as plain and dry as the Texas plains during a summer’s drought.

Scene in "The Rainmaker" with Benjamin Eakeley and Mark Elliot Wilson
Scene in “The Rainmaker” with Benjamin Eakeley and Mark Elliot Wilson. Photo by Joe Guerin.

The Rainmaker is, despite its description as a romantic comedy, not a light piece of summer fluff. It’s a deeply romantic drama, inasmuch as it is about the love between people who at times cannot express what they most deeply feel.

N. Richard Nash’s play is a masterpiece of stage writing that gently insinuates itself into your mind, your heart. I urge you to see it before its brief run is finished. Spend an evening under the spell of The Rainmaker.

The Rainmaker is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison through August 18, 2019. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org.