Characters, not punch lines, drive timely comedy
By RACHEL FISHER
Published: February 7th, 2009 07:39 PM
Last Modified: February 7th, 2009 07:57 PM
Who couldn't use a dose of comedy and optimism in today's grim economy? Anchorage Community Theatre's "The Rainmaker" offers just that. N. Richard Nash's play was first seen on Broadway in the 1950s, but its themes of hope and happiness are timeless.
The Curry family's effort to thrive in the sweltering heat of a summer day is the backdrop of the story. Their western ranch is suffering from a drought. The family struggles not to turn on each other as their cattle die and the spinsterish Lizzie (Erika Johnson) returns from an unsuccessful trip in search of a husband.
Lizzie suffers her own personal drought of self-confidence and her family is concerned that she is on the way to becoming an old maid. So her father and brothers attempt to set her up with File (Paul Bryner), the lonely deputy who claims to be a widower.
But the set up is not easy. File doesn't cooperate. He is guarded against any type of relationship; heck, he won't even accept a dog for companionship when Sheriff Thomas (Norman Wyndham) tries to give him one.
Then Starbuck (Kevin T. Bennett) arrives at the ranch and offers to bring the rain and end the drought for $100. The family has mixed reactions to the stranger. Ever the optimist, father H.C. (Andy Collins) is willing to give him a shot. So is son Jimmy (Zac Grauvogel), who is frequently called a dummy by his brother. The other Curry kids, Noah (David Eaton) and Lizzie, are skeptical and see Starbuck's pitch as a scam.
Johnson portrays a smart, strong, lovable Lizzie. She drew audience sympathy in her plight to transform from plain to pretty. As the father, Collins projects a protective, patriarchal nature. Bryner brings the peculiarities of proud, broody and independent File to life.
The stern, no-nonsense character of Noah seems to be written for David Eaton. His self-righteousness never waivers, even when he has to appear onstage in his boxers. Grauvogel had the audience roaring with laughter at times as the loyal, happy-go-lucky Jimmy. Bennett sold the charming character of Starbuck with smooth-talk that would impress the most veteran of con men.
Director Janet Stoneburner successfully guides this cast to deliver a comedy driven by characters, not punch lines. Set designer Brian Saylor has created a quaint home for the Currys, a respectable sheriff's office and a handsome nocturnal tack room.
Opening night on Friday was nearly sold out, and the audience responded with hearty applause at the close for an impressive and satisfying play.