Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"The Rainmaker: ☼☼ 1/2 BANG

As the curtain was rising at A.C.T. Theater, the Calaveras Fault came a-rumbling to the tune of a 5.6 earthquake. The floor shook a tiny bit and maybe the first balcony hiccuped, but the venerable 1910 theater laughs at 5.6.

Then the curtain went up on Mark Rucker's production of N. Richard Nash's 'The Rainmaker.' Written in 1954, the very successful show spawned several revivals, a 1956 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, and even a musical ("101 in the Shade") in 1963. So the show is 53 years old. That's good and bad.

Rene Augesen has the starring role as Lizzie who thinks she's plain, and she makes the most of a stock female character. Augesen makes us feel for Lizzie, suffering from a lack of options in her hot and dusty farmhouse, but, sadly, there is no one opposite her to root for. She can't be Maria without Tony. Even Julie Jordan had a bad-to-the-bone Billy Bigelow.

But Lizzie is stuck in the middle. Her kinda-sorta beau File (Anthony Fusco) is a banana slug (spineless arthropod - check it out) while her rainmaker hero Bill Starbuck (Geordie Johnson) could use an extra jolt of high-caf snake oil. We want to believe Pretty Bad Bill could captivate Good Lizzie. In 1954 this may have been possible. Reality is closer now.

As nights at the theatre go, "The Rainmaker" looks fantastic. Robert Mark Morgan has designed a farmhouse that makes you want to lay down on the sofa and eat popcorn, but then that farmhouse splits in half and the sheriff's office rolls up and flies down center stage. It's masterful and period at the same time. Beautiful.


As far as ratings go, The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Rainmaker" a star for the gorgeous sets, a star for Rene Augesen and Jack Willis (who was so good as Ben Hubbard in last season's 'The Little Foxes'-- he's seen above on left) and a half star for the very fine performance of Alex Morf as Jim Curry, who brings some badly needed fire to the Currys. A Bangle is awarded in self defense as the critic realizes his wife, his (female) friend and his (female) friend's daughter liked the show somewhat more than he did. Plain girl gets guy: women love it. You can't predict earthquakes, but this you can.

A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue-Sun through Nov 25 $17-$82

1 comment:

jj-aka-pp said...

In my humble opinion, the musical "110 in the Shade" by Jones and Schmidt (think: "The Fantasiks") holds up much better than the original play. Granted I am female (!) but that moment when the music stops and Lizzie chooses File over Starbuck is heartstopping. AND then, the chorus starts singing "there's a big rain a comin" AND THEN IT RAINS right there on stage. You talk about a stand up and cheer moment! Hmm I think I'll go find my CD and maybe, if I play it loud enough....the spirit of Starbuck will make it rain here in drought stricken in Georgia!