`Rainmaker' is a real gusher

Review: It may be as corny as Kansas in August, but this comedy just drips with romance.

June 12, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Once in your life you gotta take a chance on a con man," slick Bill Starbuck says when he tries to convince a drought-stricken family of ranchers he can make it rain.

Starbuck is the title character in N. Richard Nash's 1954 romantic comedy, "The Rainmaker," the season opener at Cockpit in Court. As old-fashioned as a spinning wheel or butter churn, "The Rainmaker" is a play whose attitudes - particularly about the "plight" of single women - are dated, to say the least. But if you think of it as a romantic fable, it's a pleasant enough diversion for a summer's evening, particularly in director Judy Shannon's appealingly staged rendition.

Like all good fables, "Rainmaker" has a moral - in this case, that love can change the minds and hearts of even the most stubborn.

Rodney Atkins' Starbuck, who manages to be both unctuous and affable, believes he's never met a rube he can't con or a woman whose head he can't turn. VickiMargolis' Lizzie Curry is so full of book-learning, she's unwilling to believe anything that defies common sense. What she calls lies, he calls dreams.

There are two central issues in Nash's script: 1) Will it ever actually rain on these parched plains? 2) Will rapidly aging Lizzie ever find a husband? To hear the moaning and groaning of her father and two brothers - not to mention a self-pitying monologue by Lizzie herself - you'd think staying single was a far worse fate than watching all your cattle whither and die in the unrelenting heat.

But again, if you leave your feminism on the shelf and surrender to the play's folksy level, you'll be treated to a picture of a devoted family, headed by a well-meaning father, played with warmth and affection by Dave Guy. Lizzie's two brothers are polar opposites: W.M. Yarbrough III's Jimmy is sweet but dense, while Roy Hammond, as the older, smarter Noah, is stern to the point of meanness - a more severe interpretation than necessary. There's never any doubt, however, that the members of this family look out for each other.

The play takes a while to get going, particularly in the early scenes when the brothers banter over breakfast or the local sheriff (Anthony Sorrenti Jr.) tries to convince his deputy (Steven Michael Kovalic) that he'd be less lonely if he had a dog. But such shortcomings are more the fault of the creaky script than the production.

When Atkins' Starbuck and Margolis' Lizzie finally get together, you're rooting for them, or at least rooting for the power of love. That's what Nash's homespun hokum is all about. It may be corny as a Hallmark card - but it's awfully sweet corn.

"The Rainmaker" continues in the outdoor Court Yard Theatreat the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., through Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. (The production moves indoors if it rains.) Tickets are $10. Call 410-918-4023.

Broadway-bound

Lea Thompson, starring as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" at the Mechanic Theatre, learned last week she will begin playing the role on Broadway next month. The actress' musical theater debut, "Cabaret" will also be her Broadway debut. Sally is now being portrayed on Broadway by JoelyFisher. "Cabaret" continues at the Mechanic through Sunday. Tickets are $21.50-$66.50. Call 410-752-1200.

Meanwhile, the cast of "Cabaret" will hold a benefit for the Maryland Community Kitchen and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDSat the Hippo, 1 W. Eager St., on Wednesday. Cast members, including Thompson and co-star JonPeterson, will perform a variety of song and dance numbers (although not from "Cabaret") with a full back-up band.

The evening will also include an auction of autographed posters and former "Cabaret" costumes. The program begins at 10 p.m. with local entertainment, followed at 11:30 p.m. by the "Cabaret" cast. Reserved seats are $8; general admission is $5. Call 410-342-1227.

Culman's achievement

Peter W. Culman, longtime managing director of Center Stage, who retires at the end of the month, was among the winners of the Governor's Arts Awards, presented at the Peabody Institute last Wednesday. Culman received a lifetime achievement award at the fifth annual ArtSalutesponsored by the Maryland Citizens for the Arts Foundation in association with the Maryland State Arts Council.

Broadway closings

The Tony Awards usually leave some dead shows in their wake as producers of non-profitable losers quickly pull the plug. But last week only one new closing was announced. "The Wild Party," which had seven nominations but came up dry, called it quits yesterday.

If only one post-Tony closing notice sounds less bleak than could be expected, it's not. Three other shows didn't even wait for the Tonys to announce their demise. Noel Coward's "Waiting in the Wings," which received two nominations (but no awards), closed May 28. "The Green Bird," director Julie Taymor's first Broadway show since "The Lion King," closed June 4, the day of the Tonys; it also had two nominations and no awards. And Elaine May's "Taller Than a Dwarf," which failed to be nominated in any category, closed yesterday.

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