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Let’s Review: Old Globe’s ‘Rain’ intense and gripping

The cast of the world premiere musical ‘Rain,’ onstage through May 1 at The Old Globe.
The cast of the world premiere musical ‘Rain,’ onstage through May 1 at The Old Globe.
Jim Cox

Bravo to the efforts and talents of composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa, book writer Sybille Pearson, and Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein for their musical interpretation of Somerset Maugham’s 1920’s short story “Rain,” onstage through May 1.

The first awe-moment greets playgoers as they enter the theater and get their first look at the massive three-story structure that represents the modest Horn Hotel in Pago Pago, Samoa. The Globe’s design team did an excellent job of creating an area void of most things a hotel would have, such as beds, but through their inventive structure, words can flow through with the winds and it’s easy to keep track of the tenants.

The next awe-moments arrive as the actors portray the drama. The hotel is run by Jo (Jeremy Davis) and his wife Noi Noi (Marie- France Arcilla). Due to a problem with their ship, the passengers are stranded and fill the rooms and Noi Noi is not happy so many strangers are in her space.

The guests vary in their personalities. Minister Alfred Davidson (Jared Zirilli) and his wife Anna (Elizabeth A. Davis) are on the island to save souls. Their mingling with other guests is unavoidable and their mission becomes somewhat explosive.

Guests Louisa (Betsy Morgan) and hubby Alec’s (Tally Sessions) relationship is rocky from the beginning. He has a drinking problem, shows little affection for his wife, and is immediately drawn to the badly behaved prostitute Sadie Thompson (Eden Espinosa), who quickly sets her eyes on all the men.

Days pass slowly and although the hotel is wide open, unexpected situations and guest’s contacts become a fog of change with each one’s hopes and desires.

The play is well cast. Zirilli is very believable in Alfred’s adjustments to his beliefs and behaviors. Davis is genuine in how she deals with her husband’s changes. Sessions pulls off his no-so-nice character so well, he’s easy not to like. Meanwhile, it’s just as easy to feel for his wife, humbly played by Morgan.

Espinosa is the attention-stealer. She captivates in every sexy, determined-to-get-her-man, and naughty scene. Offering a nice balance from the weight of the serious situations is humor from Arcilla. She delivers surprises to the guests as she badgers her husband to get rid of them all. When he keeps reminding her they are making money from these tenants, she pops up in different hiding spots and throws fruit at him.

The occasional rain (real water) that pours down on the set intensifies the drama. The music and lyrics by LaChiusa are a great asset in heightening the emotions of the story. If the plot seems familiar, it’s because the story became a stage play in 1923 and was later developed into several films: the 1928 silent film “Sadie Thompson,” starring Gloria Swanson; “Rain,” starring Joan Crawford in 1932; and Rita Hayworth as “Miss Sadie Thompson” in the 1953 film.

IF YOU GO: The show is for mature audiences only. “Rain” runs through May 1 on the Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets from $36. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org