KNOW Theatre’s ‘The Rainmaker’ is a creditable production of an American classic

Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri

N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker is a favorite of KNOW Theatre’s artistic director and co-founder, Tim Gleason, who directed the company’s current production.

This Rainmaker opened, ironically, on a very rainy Friday night (April 11) to a nearly full house at Binghamton’s old Carroll Street fire station, now occupied by KNOW, its permanent resident.

RainmakerThe play is a compelling period piece about a Kansas town suffering from the drought that brought the calamity of the Dust Bowl and the economic reality that was the Great Depression. A rancher whose cattle are withering away from thirst, and his spinster daughter, who refuses to resort to feminine wiles to find a man, both look for relief from a drifter/conman promising rain — and tenderness. She is ahead of her time.

Each performer here brings something to this often funny, touching, compelling comedy/drama. Alexander Boyce is Jim, the buoyant, sometimes volatile, younger son of the struggling, but hopeful rancher, H.C. Curry (Dave Merrell). Jim entertainingly gives the rest of the family someone to fret over, as if they didn’t have enough on their plate.

Josh Sedelmeyer is Deputy File, the lonely lawman whose human flaw is pride. Sedelmeyer, in the shows I have seen, is always believable, and is a young actor with enough range for the youthful parts in which he’s so far been appropriately cast; Sheriff Thomas, his mentor and friend, is well played by Rick Mertens, a familiar face on the KNOW stage.

Joe Andrews is the huckster and title character, Starbuck (cue unintended chuckles prompted by a playwright who predated the  coffeehouse franchise).  Andrews grabs your attention from the minute of his anticipated entrance. (Gleason played Starbuck in the company’s 1999 production.)  Jessica Nogaret as Lizzie, the daughter who learns to love herself even while trying to be someone else, provides a valuable lesson for everyone. I cried right along with her.

Eric Michael Patten is believable as the older brother, Noah — a perfect name for a character waiting for rain. His frequently listless affect contrasts with the bigger-than-life expressions of the others in his family, particularly Jim, but he sure is perty, and you know you don’t want to cross him. (Merrell played Noah in the 1999 KNOW production.)

While it’s clear that a typical Midwestern accent is required for this show (think the Gale family in The Wizard of Oz), my seatmates and I picked up a little sliding back and forth between southern and Midwestern. Once each actor settled into character, however, this dissipated and may only have been an opening night thing.

In this, the company’s 20th anniversary season, the re-staging of earlier plays, including Rainmaker, has been a great introduction for anyone who is unfamiliar with what this company is capable of. It was one of the plays that drew Gleason as a young man to the stage in the first place, a very good thing.

The play runs long, with one intermission, so don’t make the same mistake I did and forget to deactivate your iPhone’s 10:30 p.m. pill reminder alarm. Mea culpa! If you have me back, I promise it will never happen again.

IF YOU GO:  Performance continue at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through April 27 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton.  Tickets are $20 (seniors, $15; students, $10). Visit www. knowtheatre.org, or call 724-4341.

 

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