Sitting on the banks of the Delaware river in the middle of a flood warning, the last thing Bucks County needed was a Rainmaker. However, with the magic of theater, the audience was transported to a drought ridden western town on a sweltering summer day in the 1920s. The energy on stage helped the audience forget the fact River Road was closed as a flood precaution, and encouraged everyone to pray for rain as salvation from the scorching heat.
The Heritage Center isn’t the largest space for a production, but the Actor’s NET crew made the most out of it with set and lighting design. The main stage was a charming family kitchen complete with a large stone chimney coming up from the stove and accessorized with the latest technology of the times, a wall phone and temperamental “crystal set” radio. A smaller section of stage right was reserved for the sheriff’s office, and during the second act, the set of the tack room was unfolded from the wall on stage left. The only blocking issue came when characters tried to have conversations while cooking at the stove or all sitting around the kitchen table. I saw a lot of backs in Act 1, but I could tell the actors were trying to cheat out.
Another thing a few of the actors tried was talking and eating at the same time. Vincent Pileggi took his role as Noah seriously when he downed a few raw eggs to play the no-nonsense and brutally honest big brother. There were a few times I thought someone would have to perform the Heimlich on Michael Gearty, who played Jimmy, as he energetically stuffed his face with just about anything he could get his hands on while still trying to deliver his lines.
Delivering lines became a challenge over the noisy static of the on-set radio that disrupted sections of Act 1. Luckily they stopped trying to fix reception after the Rainmaker arrived. Starbuck, played by Marty Berrien, supplied enough distraction with his hijinks and promises of rain. Yes, in this show Starbuck is a self-proclaimed rain maker, not a coffee maker, and sounded more like an evangelist than a weather man. There were also signs of the Music Man in Berrien’s performance, and it all made sense when I read that Marty had played Professor Harold Hill before.
While all involved with this show are no strangers to theater, there’s one who has quite an impressive distinction. Marco Newton, who plays H.C., has appeared in more than 80 Actor’s NET productions, and his experience shows in this performance. Newton’s precise timing and range of emotions made him a pleasure to watch and his character even more lovable.
This was the first Actor’s NET principal role for Charissa Taylor Lees, as she played plain jane Lizzie. Her demure wholesomeness came across in her wide eyed dreamy stares and good natured views on life, while still showing signs of the awkwardness love can bring when sharing scenes with File, played by John Helmke. Their chemistry was more believable than the lukewarm tenderness between Lizzie and Starbuck.
All in all, despite the closures and warnings, the opening night of Actors’ NET RAINMAKER was a success. This story about faith, truth and love instilled a greater sense of self and the exhibited the power of positive thinking, and you can’t beat that with a (rain)stick.
by N. Richard Nash
Directed by Joe Doyle
March 11-27, 2011
Actors’ NET of Bucks County
635 N. Delmorr Avenue (Route 32)