By Diana SaengerThe Old Globe’s production of N. Richard Nash’s, “The Rainmaker,” sizes up the Curry family in the 1930s drought-ridden Midwest pretty quickly. Mrs. Curry is no longer around and patriarch H.C. (John Judd) seems to have his hands full with worrying about the homestead and three very different and independent children.
Noah (Peter Douglas) has a huge chip on his shoulder. Maybe it’s because he’s the one who has to do most of the labor around the place. He can’t abide younger brother Jim (Kyle Harris) and he surely does not understand his sister, Lizzie (Danielle Skraastad).
The girl hasn’t found a husband. Her dad wants so badly for her to be happy. He and the boys even make a trip to the sheriff’s office to entice File (Tug Coker) over for dinner so maybe the two will connect. File wants none of it. His wife ran out on him
and he hasn’t gotten over that yet.
Directed by Maria Mileaf, the script (which became a 1956 film starring Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn and Wendell Corey) is really about dreams, and who how has the yearning to chase them and who won’t take the risk.
When a stranger, who calls himself Starbuck (Gbenga Akinnagbe), arrives and introduces himself as a rainmaker, the family allows him in to hear his spiel. Like any good snake-oil salesman of that era, Bill Starbuck has his shtick down. “You’re in a parcel of trouble,” he tells them after rattling off how many cattle they’ve already lost. H.C. takes heed probably knowing it’s a hoax; yet desperate. Jim is a happy-go-lucky kid who’s on top of the world because he has a new girlfriend. He thinks they should give Starbuck a try, even if the man wants $100.
Noah is as fit-to-be-tied as he was five minutes ago. Preaching to his dad not to spend the money and chastising Jim for being a knucklehead in getting mixed up with a girl that puts taboo thoughts in his head. The arguments go on until H.C. is finally encouraged by Lizzie to give Starbuck a chance.
Starbuck not only wants to make some dough, he’s taken a liking to Lizzie. At first, she shuns him, but then Noah spews some harsh reminders (telling her and anyone else in ear range) that she’s too plain a woman to ever get a man.
The cast makes a great ensemble. Akinnagbe has con man written all over his smiling face when Starbuck walks through the door. Judd wears H.C.’s shoulder pads of emotion evenly — worrying about the rain and his Lizzie; and looking for a miracle at the hands of a stranger. The tall Coker stands his ground as File, and Culture Clash’s Herbert Siguenza is back in town as Sheriff Thomas.
Harris adds much energy to the play as young Jim. With his carefree attitude and advice to his father — “Pop, the whole world’s gonna blow up!” — the only problem he has is keeping Noah off his case. Douglas plays Noah superbly; he’s definitely a character one loves to hate. Each time he screams at Lizzie, you can almost hear the audience’s fingers digging into the arms of their seats.
Skraastad is a delight to watch in Lizzie’s emotional seesaw. At times she’s angry, at others she’s gleeful, and eventually, she’s able to at least hope her dreams may come true. If only it will rain.
If you go■ What: ‘The Rainmaker’
■ When: Matinees, evenings to Aug. 11
■ Where: The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego
■ Tickets: From $29
■ Box Office: (619) 234-5623