Think of N. Richard Nash’s 1954 hit Broadway play “The Rainmaker” (which was quickly turned into the musical “110 in the Shade”) as a companion piece to “The Music Man,” and you won’t be far off the mark.
Both stories, set in the Midwest, are pure Americana. Both involve the life-altering impact of a con man. And both, in their way, are romantic fairy tales that not only bring two unorthodox, often thwarted and disappointed people together in an unexpected way, but simultaneously foment change in a family, as well as in a small town. Above all, both works examine the difference between “lying” and “dreaming,” suggesting that while truth is all-important in any relationship or human endeavor, it is dreaming that is absolutely essential to keeping hope alive.
“The Rainmaker” is now receiving an altogether charming production by American Blues Theater. And, with an ideal cast under the energetic but sensitive direction of Ed Blatchford (a co-founding member of the company, who for years has been working in film and television in Los Angeles), it fits this ensemble and its mission (“to illuminate the American ideas of freedom, equality, and opportunity”) like a glove.
When: Through Sept. 27
Where: American Blues Theater
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $29 – $39
Info: (773) 404-7336;
Run time: 2 hours
and 20 minutes with one intermission
Set in a Texas farming community during the Great Depression of the 1930s, “The Rainmaker” homes in on the Curry family: the widowed, warm-hearted patriarch, H.C. Curry (Danny Goldring, in a perfect mix of the crusty and the sentimental), and his two sons, Noah (Vincent Teninty, just right as the combative, judgmental manager of the ranch) and his handsome, high-spirited younger brother, Jim, who is in his girl-crazy stage (and is played by the irresistible Matt Pratt, winningly smitten with the town vamp, Snooky). Most crucially there is H.C.’s daughter, Lizzie (the wonderful Linsey Page Morton), a supremely smart and capable woman with immense pride and honesty, who is fully aware that she is “plain,” inept at playing the games the Snookys of the world seem so at ease with, and very likely destined for the lonely life of a spinster.
Attempts to fix Lizzie up with File (the deftly alienated Howie Johnson) — the town’s deputy sheriff, whose failed marriage has soured him on love and left him hellbent on living alone — are awkward and doomed to failure. Sheriff Thomas (the droll Robert Breuler) is more on the right track when he tells File he needs a dog for companionship.
Enter Bill Starbuck (Steve Key, most winning as an insecure man with an irrepressible, fast-talking, seductive flair). This flamboyant, poetic, well-practiced huckster has pulled up at the Curry farm in his truck and tries to sell them all a bit of witchcraft, promising that for a hundred dollars he will bring rain within 24 hours. Though still solvent, the Currys are feeling the effects of a severe drought, with their livestock dying in ever greater numbers. And while Lizzie and Noah are convinced Starbuck is just taking them for a ride, there is just something about the man that entices H.C. and Jim, who agree to let him try.
Before long, of course, Starbuck works a very different kind of transformative magic on Lizzie (and she on him), with both of these quite opposite sorts of people finding a poignant and liberating common ground. With her scrubbed face and bone-true acting, Morton is ideal here as, in spite of herself, she slowly succumbs to Starbuck’s dreamy enticements.
Sarah E. Ross’ fold-out set (lit by Sarah Hughey, and with costumes by Christopher Neville) deftly captures the Currys’ rustic home.
Is it all a bit corny and old-fashioned? Without question. But only those with a heart of stone will be able to resist the charms of “The Rainmaker,” and that first crack of thunder.