Nestled in a residential neighborhood in East Falls sits a modest building with a rich local history. Boasting the likes of Grace Kelly treading upon its boards, Old Academy Players’ current production is THE RAINMAKER by N. Richard Nash, a locally grown playwright. Timely for its exploration of desperate times requiring desperate measures, the play offers a humorous peek into the life of a worried family whose condition is exacerbated by heat and drought, compliments of mother nature. Considered an American classic, THE RAINMAKER is billed as a romantic comedy. In addition, this play surely explores a wide array of issues all too familiar to audiences of today.
Prior to the show the audience is treated to a soundtrack of period music and a thorough look at the carefully decorated set. Antiques, such as telephones, a radio and typewriter help to advise the audience of the 1930’s setting. The play begins with H.C. Curry (Gerry Alexander) and his two unmarried sons Noah (Christopher Wunder) and Jim (Jonathan Glick) lamenting life without rain. Heat and drought are taking a toll on the ranch and their humor. The one female character, Lizzie Curry (Rose Fairley), is convincing herself that her life will be without love and she is too plain looking to ever attract a suitor, therefore steeling herself for life as a spinster aunt, her own personal drought. A smooth talking stranger, Bill Starbuck (Brad Larson) enters their lives and tries to convince the family that for $100 he will ensure rain. We learn that Starbuck is a wanted man and that Sheriff Thomas (Paul Gordon) and Deputy File (Robert Toczek) intend to find and capture this knave. As with many families, well meaning intentions often go awry and words spoken in anger usually sting more than intended. Harsh realities of life without rain on a western ranch make the characters feel hopeless. Their lives all take unexpected and much needed twists and turns as a result of the arrival of the stranger.
Glick, Fairley and Larson are university trained actors. Others in the cast come from a variety of local theatrical backgrounds. The cast worked well as an ensemble, clearly supporting one another with a perceptible on-stage bond. The actors playing the characters of Lizzie and Jim were cast well as they had a strong family resemblance. Rose Fairley brings Lizzie to life with an emotionally varied performance communicating the desperation of the character, her unwillingness to act foolishly like other girls just to get a husband, and the acceptance of her plight on the ranch. The prominent and delicate changes she portrays serve the text, character and her fellow actors well. Brad Larson, as the smooth talking con artist, inflects his performance with a balance of sincerity and cynicism. Gerry Alexander brings a necessary stability to his role with a solid, knowing acceptance while Christopher Wunder’s eye rolling at the behavior of his family communicates his frustration. The energy of the stage changes when Jonathan Glick is on hand. His portrayal of Jim, somewhat dumb, very hungry, both physically and emotionally, and always open and willing to hope for change is real, bursting with humor and brings to life the most fully realized character in the show. Robert Toczek does an admirable job with his role of deputy, engaging us in his own personal struggle. Paul Gordon is believable as sheriff.
Story telling is what theater is about. Solid direction from Paul Muscarella, along with a set that makes good use of a small space, period costumes and interesting props, all enliven this story. Muscarella makes sure that the humor in this tale of hopes and dreams is in the forefront, humanizing each character. Bringing an audience together with well rehearsed actors, all hoping to find common ground during an evening of exploration together made for a lively and engaged audience. Happy, laughing, enthusiastic patrons filled the house and showed their appreciation along the way, offering cheers and loud applause at the final curtain.
Complimentary refreshments during a 20 minute intermission, a tradition at Old Academy Players, enhance the homey atmosphere. With one more weekend of performances, treat yourself to a taste of the past, and patronize this gem of a theater.
by N. Richard Nash
Directed by Paul Muscarella
Old Academy Players
March 2-18, 2012
3540-3544 Indian Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129