UC San Diego grad Maria Mileaf, is directing a rekindling of N. Richard Nash’s classic romantic comedy, “The Rainmaker,” at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park this summer.
“The Rainmaker” has quite a history. Since Nash penned it in the 1950s, it has been translated into more than 40 languages, made into a musical, and the 1956 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster. It has won Academy Awards and a Tony.
Mileaf said she heard about the play, but had not seen it or read the script until The Globe’s Artistic Director Barry Edelstein approached her about directing it.
“I found it charming, engaging and quite beautiful,” Mileaf said. “It even made me cry to understand the characters and what they were all about.”
“The Rainmaker” is set in the 1930s against the sweeping landscape of the drought-ridden Midwest. Spinsterish Lizzie Curry (Danielle Skraastad) has just returned from a family visit where she hoped to find a possible mate. Instead, she’s saddled with worry about how to keep the declining ranch going. Yet Lizzie still dreams about finding Mr. Right and wonders if he might possibly be Bill Starbuck (Gbenga Akinnagbe) the charming (soon to be known as a charlatan) man who promises to bring rain in exchange for $100.
Mileaf directs from the original Nash script and is thrilled to be joined by what she calls “a very exciting and talented design team” (aka Neil Patel, her husband).
“We’ve worked together on several projects and work very well together,” she said. “He’s created a terrific set for this show, which is one of the first things for a director to decide. In this case, the audience must see an environment set in the 1930s, but the set must also create a world that gives a sense of a western drought, while also focusing on a story about characters who need hope.
“Katherine Roth has created beautiful costumes, and I’m delighted with the lighting design by Japhy Weideman, especially how he’s lit the background skies.”
In the casting process, Mileaf said she found just the right actors for the leads — Skraastad and Akinnagbe.
“There were challenges to make compelling in a 2013 play about a motherless family-centered girl who yearns to have her own journey and also a father and how he allows her to blossom,” Mileaf said. “The love triangle is uppermost. Gbenga read for the part of Starbuck very well. He’s very much a dangerous, sexy, stranger. Danielle is amazing. I’ve seen her on stage before, and she’s a beautiful theatrical actor.”
Anyone who has seen the play, or the 1956 film, will presumably arrive with certain expectations. Mileaf is ready for that.
“My goal has always been to create a good experience at the theater for the audience,” she said. With ‘The Rainmaker,’ we are creating something compelling and edgy. One might ask why this girl is falling for a cowboy squeezed into a con man? There are many things in the play people will relate to that still happen in one way or another in 2013.
“This story is for those who want to live happily-ever-after, but in a real way. Not so much in having a dream, but discovering the center of who they are and what they want in this world.”