Chicago Theater Review: THE RAINMAKER (BoHo Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Tony Frankel on April 21, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

A REFRESHING RAIN

When reviving an oft-produced play like N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker, the hope is that the director will somehow put a new spin on the production so that the piece doesn’t come off as dusty as the drought-ridden plains in which it takes place. Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s production at Theater Wit has not done that, yet the exquisite casting and temperate direction of Stephen M. Genovese fills the tiny space with enough charm and humor that I forgot at times that this is the fourth version I have seen of the classic 1954 play.

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony Frankel

The setting is a blazing hot summer’s day in a Depression-era rural town. As cattle lay dying around the Curry ranch, the unassuming Lizzie Curry’s widowed father and two brothers are more preoccupied with her marriage prospects than the drought that threatens to consume their business. When a charismatic confidence man named Starbuck enters their parlor with the promise of rain, the Curry patriarch hands over $100 in cash, though we suspect he’s investing in Starbuck as a way to end Lizzie’s romantic drought. But in one day’s time, Starbuck’s presence quenches Lizzie’s thirst for enlightenment, even as the world around her remains parched.

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony Frankel

Genovese clearly believes in the story, because he took the risk to cover the regular seats in burlap bags and, as set designer, creates a tiny thrust stage where the audience literally sits in the Curry parlor, as if we were eavesdropping tintypes hanging on the walls. With little to no set changes, Diana D. Fairchild’s delicate lighting does the job to shift the scene from the parlor to a Sherriff’s office and a barn. Theresa Ham’s costumes look like they have been hanging on a rack since 1930, and Cassy Schillo’s props are breathtakingly authentic, especially the radio, which comes to crackling life with Peter Robel’s directional sound.

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony FrankelUltimately, the story and the casting make this a worthwhile visit. As Lizzie, the spinster whose heart is melted by a con man, Anna Hammonds’ unpretentious and unadorned simplicity draws us in to her seemingly hopeless lifestyle; she has the robustness of a plainswoman that keeps a home for her family, along with a wistful vulnerability that rounds out her character. H.C., head of the Curry clan, is portrayed by Robert Frankel with a playful, understanding cognizance towards his daughter’s plight. As the younger brother Jim, Nate Santana is a delight, strutting around the stage like a boyish peacock. Daniel Gilbert brings a boiling frustration to older brother and bookkeeper Noah, I just wish he would have banged the table less and internalized his annoyance more. Matthew Keffer’s Starbuck turns out to be the most surprising performance of the night: when first he barges his way into the Curry home, he seemed more pushy than charismatic; he delivered lines like a self-help seminar leader, but his self-conviction won us over as he ultimately worked his way into the hearts of those around him.

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony Frankel

The standout performance of the night belongs to Thad Anzur as File, the town deputy who has an eye on Lizzie, but whose bad experience with a previous relationship keeps him from pursuing her. Anzur is modest, inconspicuous, amiable and altogether fascinating.

In a theatrical landscape that is drought-stricken with incongruous casting and deficient storytelling, BoHo Theatre’s The Rainmaker is like a cool drink of water after a sojourn in the desert.

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony Frankel

The Rainmaker – Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit – Chicago Review by Tony Frankelphotos by Peter Coombs

The Rainmaker
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
scheduled to end on May 6, 2012
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit BoHo Theatre

for more info on Chicago Theatre,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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