Every once in a while you walk into the theater, and everything is just right. From the impeccable and detailed set to the actors’ superb performances and the chemistry of the cast. For the audience it becomes effortless to suspend reality, to be lost in the moment. This is the magic of theater.
And I love a play that challenges me to pose questions of myself. When “The Rainmaker” ended, I only had a 10-minute drive home from the Newport Theatre Arts Center to wonder, “What am I thirsting for and who or what do I allow standing in my way?”
“The Rainmaker,” by Richard Nash and directed by Cecilia Fannon, opened NTAC’s 2010-2011 season last weekend and will run through Oct. 10.
It takes place during the Depression, perhaps in Nebraska, on a summer day in a time of drought. We find ourselves in the home of the Curry Family on their cattle ranch. This day in the life play centers on Lizzie Curry, played by Karen Wray. She is the only woman of the house where she lives with her father H.C. Curry (Alan Slabodkin) and brothers Noah (Rob Lanning) and Jimmy (Paul Breazeale).
Lizzie is an independent thinking and sincere woman who has not yet found true love and although she longs for a husband and family of her own, she will not compromise. Her brothers and father worry about her becoming a spinster. The worry is the catalyst for a series of family conversations and arguments that reveal the inner workings of the family as a whole and each individual member.
Deputy File, played by Michael Csoppenszky, is a possible love interest for Lizzie, although he is a guarded and wounded man, seemingly done with love. His boss, the Sheriff, (Bruce Curry – the actor’s real last name, not to be confused with the family name of the show’s central characters), is gently trying to keep his deputy’s heart open for the possibility of love.
Just as the land is thirsting for rain, each character is grappling with his or her own personal drought.
A storm of a different type rips through the Curry family’s house when a mysterious man claiming to be a rainmaker named Starbuck (Philip Bushell) comes to the home unannounced and Lizzie finds herself drawn to his charisma and energy.
The cast of seven does a superb job evoking raw emotion.
Wray gives a heartfelt performance, conveying the conflicts of hope vs. hopelessness and delight vs. despair. The subtleties of her performance were what I liked best; the nervous laugh, the hurt look on her face, the change in stance with the change of her mood.
Breazeale’s portrayal of Jimmy, Lizzie’s brother, was spot on – while it seemed like a simple role of a misunderstood young man yearning for adventure, Breazeale rose to the occasion, nailing confusion, anger, innocence, passion, and young love. It is a joy to watch Breazeale perfect his craft on stage.
Lanning plays the character everyone loves to be angry at, Noah Curry, the older brother who needs to control everyone’s lives; pointing out their mistakes and faults. By intermission, I was really getting aggravated with Lanning’s cynicism and anger; a compliment to Lanning’s performance.
Csoppensky plays a man who needs nurturing and romance, in such a wonderfully sad and human way I couldn’t tell who was more moved, the mother in me or the woman in me.
Perhaps the reason Alan Slabodkin was so believable in the role of H.C. Curry, Lizzie’s father, is because he is the real-life father of a “smart, beautiful and very tall daughter like Lizzie.” His character’s challenge is a challenge he faces in his own life, “I need to help her but not control her,” says Slabodkin.
Bushell’s huge energy permeated the theater every time he was on stage. Even in the quiet scenes.
He shared one important lesson he gleaned while playing Starbuck.
“I learned to never put limitations on myself. The role of Starbuck was not written for an actor who ‘looked’ like me and I had never seen it being played by an actor of color,so when I was asked by Cecilia Fannon to audition for the role I thought, ‘Sure, I guess she needed actors to fill some spots at the audition,’ so I went and read for the role without any expectations, and I guess she saw something.”
Likewise, the members of the cast see something very special in their director.
“Cecilia is a dream to work with. I’ve had the pleasure to work with her quite a lot – and it’s been really amazing each time. She is immensely talented, yet very humble”, said Csoppenszky.
Breazeale sees Fannon as a “painter who creates several brush strokes, stops, allows the subject of the painting to grab the brush for a few minutes, and then she picks it back up.”
Bushell said of Fannon, “She is one of those directors that allows the actor to use his instincts to create a role and bring it to life.” And he adds, “Believe it or not, it’s a rarity”
The forecast on The Rainmaker NTAC: Heavy emotion with a steady stream of hope and love.
- Runs through Oct. 10
- Tickets $15. 949-631-0288 or www.ntaoconline.org
- Newport Theater Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive