People’s Light & Theatre Company has enjoyed success with its past offerings of masterworks about life in America in the first half of the 20th century (John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful); its current production of THE RAINMAKER, by South Philadelphia native N. Richard Nash, is another affecting and entertaining work in the American period-piece genre. Set on an Iowa ranch during the Dust Bowl in 1936, the uplifting story about a family facing challenges and keeping the faith in times of adversity offers insight into a devastating episode in our nation’s history, but more importantly, into the human condition, with all of its disappointments, hopes, and possibilities.
The story revolves around the fictional Curry family—father H.C. (Graham Smith), two adult sons Noah (Kevin Bergen) and Jim (John Jarboe), and smart but “plain” daughter, Lizzie (Nancy McNulty), whose unmarried status worries the men as much as the long drought impacting their ranch and killing the cattle. When a stranger named Bill Starbuck (Michael Sharon) arrives at their door and claims that he can conjure a storm within 24 hours, they must decide if he’s a liar and a con-man, or if they should take the leap of faith and pay him $100 to make the much-needed rain—a decision that has significant consequences for the ranch, the family’s dynamics, the local Sheriff (Mark Lazar) and his assistant File (Pete Pryor), and for Lizzie’s marital prospects.
John Jarboe steals the show in his role as the ingenuous Jim–kind and loving, accepting and forgiving, an eternal optimist that others call “dumb” but whose zest for life and positive attitude are both refreshing and contagious. Jarboe’s flawless Midwestern accent and engaging portrayal bring just the right touches of humor and heart to the Curry family drama. The other cast members, under the keen direction of Abigail Adams, also offer fine characterizations of Nash’s distinctive personalities. Smith’s H.C. is a caring and encouraging patriarch; Bergen’s Noah is pragmatic to the point of cruelty; McNulty’s Lizzie lacks the confidence to see herself as the strong, intelligent, and attractive woman she is; Pryor’s File is damaged by love and afraid to be hurt again, but is spurred by Lazar’s Sheriff Thomas to take a chance; and Sharon, in the titular role, is bold and charismatic, a drifter and a dreamer who wants more for himself and believes that he can make it happen.
Wilson Chin’s set design, with authentic ’30s-style furniture inside the wooden framework of a two-story house, works hand-in-hand with Dennis Parichy’s lighting, portraying the overwhelming temperatures of the relentless blazing sun as a giant circular backdrop lit in yellow. We can almost feel the heat, and become fully involved in the hope for nourishing rain. They don’t call the company “People’s Light” without reason; this is a feel-good show with an illuminating message. September 18-October 13, 2013, http://peopleslight.org/production/rainmaker.