Sunday, September 16, 2007

opening-weekend review of *The Rainmaker*

at Spokane Interplayers Ensemble through Sept. 29 (production transfers to Lake City Playhouse, Oct. 26-Nov. 10)

In the middle of an eventually inspiring play that’s too tidy about expressing and resolving its themes — and in the midst of an uneven cast — it’s the performance of Kelly Eviston Quinnett in The Rainmaker (at Interplayers through Sept. 29) that leaves an indelible impression.
As Lizzie, the potential spinster caged in a masculine world and trapped by her own self-doubts, Quinnett projects so much raw emotion that playgoers are practically compelled to root for her dreams to come true.
Wearing a dowdy apron over a shapeless housedress, her hair tightly wound in a bun and her character’s self-esteem even more constricted, Quinnett appears without makeup and without pretension to portray a woman who’s afraid of loneliness and doesn’t know how to avoid it. She craves tenderness and doesn’t know how to get it.
In the crucial scene near the end of the play when Starbuck gets Lizzie to see herself in a new light, Quinnett is all half-turns from the waist up, unsure whether to embrace or spurn the sweet-talking con man. With her eyes averted and then darting toward his face, with her arms unsure whether to plead for affection or remain crossed in self-defense, she shows us not just a simple movement from self-distrust to self-acceptance, but instead a wavering, grudging, gradual movement toward what Starbuck is trying to convince her of.
In his first, delayed appearance as Starbuck — the fast-talking con man who promises rain for drought-parched ranches in exchange for $100 — Jonathan Rau lacks outrageousness. For someone who instantly needs to swindle an entire family, his storytelling feels too restrained. His line of meteorological malarkey needs to sound utterly sincere and doesn’t; his glowing descriptions of how beautiful life could be should glisten and don’t. On a couple of occasions, Rau actually backs away from people when he’s supposed to be defying them.
But contrast Rau’s storytelling manner later in the play, when he’s addressing an audience of one.
Todd Jasmin plays a taciturn deputy named File who’s a kind of late-breaking rival to Starbuck for Lizzie’s attention; he also directs. After Nash’s script, in its neatly accessible way, signals in the early going that Lizzie and File both are lonely souls in need of some affection, Jasmin overlaps the two characters briefly in separate pools of light, both of them sublimating their desires in make-work tasks. It’s a nice directorial touch.

William Rosevear’s set design gets maximum use out of Interplayers’ extreme thrust stage and extends the prairie exterior onto the ranch house’s interior walls, nicely underscoring the drama’s dream-big-but-keep-it-real theme.

Dream big, but don’t let your dreams intrude on others’ — most of all, don’t let your dreams die: N. Richard Nash’s *The Rainmaker* has just that kind of formulaic, neatly accessible theme. It’s a ‘50s drama, and we’ve heard it before. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s worth listening again to what Nash has to say.

Interplayers may be presenting an over-long version with mixed results in the acting, but even a too-neat presentation of themes is mostly salvaged by Kelly Quinnett’s remarkable performance.

Pick up a copy of the Thursday, Sept. 20 *Inlander* for the full and revised version of this review, including more on Kelly Quinnett as Lizzie; some strengths in Jonathan Rau's performance as Starbuck; the dry humor of Maynard Viller's wise performance as Lizzie's father, H.C. Curry; and more on other cast members.


At September 16, 2007 11:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I think this entire production is quite remarkable. I have issues with both local reviewers opinions that this show is dated~ of course it is, it takes place in the past.

I think it is lovely.


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