by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Limelight Theatre of St. Augustine opened N. Richard Nash’s classic “The Rainmaker”. This play has been a crowd pleaser since it debuted in 1954. Its legacy was further enhanced by the 1956 movie–still very popular– with Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster. In 1963 it was made into a musical, “110 In The Shade”. The play had another revival in 1999 with Woody Harrelson in the leading role of Starbuck. It has been successful for several reasons and one of the main reasons is that all the characters in the play are interesting in different ways.
It is the story of a charismatic con man and self-proclaimed rainmaker who offers hope to the Curry family in a small Southwestern town beset by a drought and his encounter with a woman whose life is at a crossroads. No specific date is given, but judging by the style of the stage telephone, and the fact that the family uses a large crystal radio, the setting is the late 1920s or early 30s.
Bill Starbuck, rainmaker extraordinaire if we are to believe him, is excellently portrayed by KELLY ROSSBERG who has already impressed Limelight audiences as Louie in the recent “Lost in Yonkers” and as Robert in “Boeing Boeing”. Starbuck guarantees rain in 24 hours for a fee of $100, payable in advance.
Now Starbuck’s fee might not sound like much these days, but this was at a time when the average annual income was about $2,000, a gallon of milk was 14 cents and a loaf of bread cost 9 cents. The desperate ranch owner and widower H. C.Curry (LOU AGRESTA) pays the money over the objections of his eldest son, Noah (STEPHEN PIGMAN), who manages the cattle ranch and its money. Jim, the animated and free spirited younger son, objects at first but later becomes involved in the rainmaking by beating a loud bass drum constantly, part of the rainmaker’s plan. As played by JONATHAN ROSS, his personality is a wonderful contrast to the more serious and headstrong Noah.
The final member of the family is daughter Lizzie, who is lonely and needs to find a husband. But Lizzie has two big problems; she’s plain and also proud. CATHY O’BRIEN gives what has to be an award-winning performance as Lizzie. She was also terrific as the imperious German airline attendant Gretchen in Limelight’s “Boeing Boeing”.
Lizzie does have a possible potential suitor in the shy and withdrawn deputy Sheriff File (JAN PETER BUKSAR) but the prospects of an actual match with him don’t appear too promising. The final character is Sheriff Thomas, played by JOHN POPE, whose name is familiar for his many roles in the Jacksonville area before he and his actress wife relocated close to Daytona Beach.
If you are not familiar with this show, you have probably surmised that there will be a connection between Starbuck and Lizzie and indeed Starbuck is the catalyst that helps Lizzie see her beauty and let miracles happen. The scene between Lizzie and Starbuck in the barn is very emotional and moving. And at this point you probably also want to know if our flimflam man does make it rain. Will he and Lizzie continue their relationship? The Dual Critics are never known to be spoilers, but we recommend that you bring along an umbrella when you go to see the show.
The set by Production Manager/Designer TOM FALLON is a simple country home with rustic wooden furniture and a somewhat abstract Western landscape in the background. The costumes by LORRAINE ROKOVITZ include typical farmhand clothing for the men, while Lizzie wears soft pretty dresses.
“The Rainmaker” was directed by IAN MAIRS, who is well known as a playwright, actor and director in the North Florida area for the past 20 plus years. He has done an incredible bit of casting, with excellent performances by all. Mr. Mairs now resides in New York, and judging by what the weather has been like in that area the past few months, doubtless welcomes the opportunity to return home for artistic endeavors.
It is certainly worth a trip to St. Augustine to see this fine show that has humor and a message that our hopes and dreams can come true despite what others believe.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM