THE RAINMAKER Opens At Northern Stage 3/16

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As the region emerges from a long and difficult winter, Northern Stage taps into the eternal optimism of the American spirit with N. Richard Nash's acclaimed comedy-drama-romance The Rainmaker, on stage from March 16 through April 3 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

For this production, Northern Stage has assembled another top-notch artistic team, including British director Giles Ramsay and lead actors Justin Adams and Sutton Crawford, who portrayed Wolfgang Mozart and Constanze Weber in the company's recent production of Amadeus. Ramsay, who heads the U.K. non-profit Developing Artists, has traveled the world staging Theater Productions in remote and volatile areas. He will inject this classic tale of Depression-era Americana with all of the storytelling power gleaned from cultures on four continents.

The members of the Curry family, like their neighbors, are suffering through a debilitating drought, with cattle dying and no sign of rain. Suddenly, a charismatic stranger who calls himself Starbuck appears at their door offering to bring rain-for a price. The Currys, equally mistrustful and desperate, must make a decision. Starbuck's offer seems too good to be true . . . but what if it is true? What do they have to lose besides one hundred hard-earned dollars? And what does Starbuck's arrival mean for daughter Lizzie, whose fiercely independent and outspoken nature have helped keep her unmarried? Starbuck's arrival changes each family member forever.

The Rainmaker runs live on stage at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction from March 16 - April 3, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m., except for the Opening Night performance on Friday, March 18 at 7:00 p.m., with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Thursday, March 24. For tickets and information, call 802-296-7000. Tickets are also available through the Northern Stage website, www.northernstage.org.

While N. Richard Nash wrote a great number of works for the stage and screen, from the very dark to the utterly lighthearted, The Rainmaker stands as his most remembered piece by far. Since 1954, the play has been translated into 40 languages, including an unwritten African language in which performers learned the parts by hearing them repeated. This longevity is likely due to the fact that, while the plot is uncomplicated, its main theme is universal: even in the most difficult times, hopes and dreams remain alive. "I tried to tell a simple story about droughts that happen to people, and about faith," Nash later wrote.

Whether Bill Starbuck is a miracle worker or a charlatan is almost irrelevant; he provides a breath of fresh air to the Curry family, and he leaves each member of the family forever changed. As director Giles Ramsay notes, it is almost like a fairy tale, with Starbuck as the dashing "prince" riding in on his (presumably) white horse to convince the luckless Lizzie that within her there is a beautiful princess. Despite the hardscrabble surroundings, Nash notes in his foreword that the action should be seen through a "romantically gauzed lens."

The Rainmaker started as a one-act production of the Philco Television Playhouse in 1953 and hit Broadway's Cort Theatre as a full-length play on October 28, 1954, running for 125 performances, until Feb. 12, 1955. Geraldine Page starred as Lizzie, with a young Darren McGavin, fresh off filming Summertime in Venice with Katharine Hepburn, portraying Starbuck. In his review, Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called it "warm, simple and friendly; the humor is captivating, and the characters are lovable and original."

As a side note, in the original production, sheriff'File was played by Richard Coogan, who had gained fame as the original "Captain Video," an early television superhero. In fact, in 1949, Coogan did the Captain Video show live until 7:30 p.m., then jumped in a cab to go from the Dumont Television Network studio to Broadway to perform in Mae West's Diamond Lil.

The Rainmaker gained new fame with the 1956 film version, starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. (A second version, filmed for television in 1982, with Tuesday Weld and Tommy Lee Jones, was less successful.) The two stars worked in opposite ways; Hepburn learned all of her lines before filming began; Lancaster preferred to learn each day's script the night before shooting. When Lancaster was 25 minutes late to the set on the first day, Hepburn berated him in private. From then on, he was on time, although he remained troublesome on the set, reportedly ordering around the cameraman and lighting technicians.

"He was very difficult from the outset," said director Joseph Anthony (who had also directed the Broadway version). "He told me, ‘This play is a bunch of crap. The writer doesn't know anything about country life, or what it means to be in a drought, with the cattle starving.' I told him the drought was just a symbol of Lizzie's parched soul, but he dismissed the idea out of hand . . . He was not much fun to work with." Hepburn wound up with her seventh of twelve Best Actress Oscar nominations, losing to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia.

A 1999 revival featured Woody Harrelson (who replaced Law & Order: SVU star Christopher Meloni, star of the pre-Broadway run at Williamstown) as Starbuck and Jayne Atkinson as Lizzie, which reviewer Ben Brantley described as "Mr. Harrelson playing irresistible force to Ms. Atkinson's immovable object." Atkinson's performance was rewarded with a Tony nomination. In a veritable flurry of Atkinsonism, Jayne Atkinson starred at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in a play that was originally reviewed in The New York Times in 1954 by . . . Brooks Atkinson.

The play was also made into a Broadway musical, 110 in the Shade, also directed by Anthony and with a book by Nash, with music and lyrics by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones of The Fantasticks. The musical opened on Broadway in October 1963 and ran for 330 performances, gaining Tony nominations for Best Composer & Lyricist, Best Actress (Inga Swenson as Lizzie), Best Featured Actor (Will Geer, aka Grandpa Walton, as H.C.) and Best Direction. The musical was revived in 2007 by Roundabout Theatre Co. at Studio 54, with Steve Kazee as Starbuck and Audra McDonald as Lizzie, garnering for Tony nominations, including Best Revival and Best Actress in a Musical (McDonald).

N. Richard Nash was born Nathan Richard Nusbaum in Philadelphia, PA, on June 8,1913, the son of Sael, a journalist and bookbinder, and Jenny, who managed the family grocery store through the depths of the Great Depression after her husband died when Nathan was only 16. His mother, struggling to make ends meet, had little time to spend with her family; Nathan was often left in the care of his older sister Mae, who inspired, in part, the character of Lizzie in The Rainmaker. After a brief career as a ten-dollar-per-match boxer ("I didn't get hurt too much, but I always had a bloody nose," he said), Nathan moved on to the University of Pennsylvania to study English and philosophy, later teaching drama there and at Bryn Mawr and Haverford and writing two philosophy books. Early in his career, he also worked for an advertising firm; reportedly, two of his successes were coming up with the slogan "A diamond is forever" for DeBeers and saving the agency from the embarrassment of naming a new toothpaste "Dreck," which is Yiddish for rubbish or excrement.

Nusbaum married actress Helena Taylor in 1935, and they had a son, Cristopher. Shortly after, they moved to Hollywood, where he was encouraged-with his father's blessing-to change his name to Nash and to reduce his first name to an initial. In 1940, Nash wrote his first play, Parting at Imsdorf, which won the Maxwell Anderson Verse Drama Award. His first Broadway success came in 1946 with the Shakespearian-themed comedy The Second Best Bed, followed by The Young and Fair (1948), See the Jaguar (1952, winner of the International Drama Award in Cannes and the Prague Award), and The Rainmaker. He and Helena divorced in 1954; he was briefly married to Janice Rule in 1956 and was remarried that same year to actress Katherine Copeland, with whom he had two daughters, Jennifer and Amanda.

Nash's screenplays included the 1947 Ann Sheridan film noir Nora Prentiss, The Sainted Sisters (1948), Dear Wife (1949), Mara Maru (1952), Helen of Troy (1956), Porgy and Bess (1959), Dragonfly (1976, reissued as One Summer Love) and Between the Darkness and the Dawn (1985). Other Broadway shows include Girls of Summer (1956), Handful of Fire (1958), Wildcat (1960, starring Lucille Ball), 110 in the Shade, The Happy Time (1968, nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical), and Saravà (1979). Nash's novels include East Wind, Rain, Radiance and The Last Magic.

In the early 1960s, during a lull in his career, he created and operated a successful mail-order company, Country Crafts, through which he sold reproduction furniture that he made and marketed himself. He closed the business when he received an order from Bloomingdales that was larger than he was comfortable filling. He also taught at Yale, Princeton and Brandeis.

In the 1970s, he wrote two darker works under the pseudonym John Roc: a play, Fire!, and a novel, Winter Blood. He was convinced that the works would not be taken seriously if they were written under his own name.

Nash died in Manhattan, New York on New York 11 December 2000, at the age of 87.

Justin Adams (Starbuck) returns to Northern Stage following a critically acclaimed turn as Mozart in the October 2010 production of Amadeus. Adams trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. His past roles have ranged from Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and Laertes in Hamlet to the title role in Nicholas Nickleby. Starring with Adams is Northern Stage Sutton Crawford, chosen from over 100 who auditioned for the role. Crawford, who appeared here alongside Adams as Mozart's wife Constanze, has many New York theater credits, including such Shakespeare classics as Henry IV, Henry V and Titus Andronicus, in addition to television and film appearances.

The supporting cast includes Michael Hayward-Jones, veteran of Broadway productions of A Tale of Two Cities, Me and My Girl, Brigadoon and Evita; Richard Pruitt, who has performed on Broadway in 42nd Street and On the Waterfront; Jon Krupp from the Yale School of Drama, who was featured in the award-winning New York production of Lost and Found; Joe Tapper, also a Yale MFA, who performed in The Jammer, a Fringe First winner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and Shannon Michael Wamser, an actor, director and playwright whose work has been featured from New York to Poland.

Giles Ramsay is an independent theatre director and producer who specializes in creating new work with artists in developing countries. He is the Founding Director of the charity Developing Artists (www.developingartists.co.uk), a Fellow of St. Chad's College, Durham University and Course Leader in Modern Theatre at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Recent directing credits include The Glass Menagerie for Northern Stage in March 2009; a Zimbabwean version of Oedipus Tyrannus, which opened in Harare in May 2009; and Marathon for The Harare International Festival of the Arts in May 2010. In August 2010 he directed a showcase for the CulturArte project in Cape Verde and earlier this year ran a number of drama workshops in Gaborone, Botswana. He will return there in September 2011 to direct the musical Goalmouth. He also regularly lectures on the history and practice of European theatre on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 as it sails from New York to the U.K.

Northern Stage now stands as one of the most prestigious and fastest-growing regional theaters in New England. Founding Artistic Director Brooke Ciardelli brought the company to the Briggs Opera House in 1997; since then, Northern Stage has offered over 90 productions, including World Premieres such as The Shrew Tamer, Ovid: Tales of Myth & Magic and A Christmas Carol: The Musical. Other highlights include a staged reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Patrick Stewart and Lisa Harrow and a reading of Resurrection Blues, with the playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller, in attendance. The company has been honored with Moss Hart Awards for Excellence in Theater from the New England Theatre Conference four times, for productions of To Kill A Mockingbird (1999), All My Sons (2004), Les Misérables (2008) and Hamlet (2009), as well as an Addison Award for The Shrew Tamer (2004) and 2010 Owl Awards for Best Actress and Best Musical.

Community support has enabled the company to sell over 30,000 tickets in downtown White River Junction in the last year to enjoy entertaining and thought-provoking professional theater and theater education here at the crossroads of northern New England. They have also reached out to offer residencies and workshops at over a dozen area schools; initiated "Project Playwright," a literacy program for fifth and sixth graders; and launched NS Touring, which sends top productions to theaters throughout the world and brings international talents to the U.S.

For information or tickets, call 802-296-7000, e-mail boxoffice@northernstage.org, or log on to www.northernstage.org. The Box Office at the Briggs Opera House is open beginning two hours before all performances; tickets for all shows are available by phone or at the Northern Stage administrative office at 28 Gates Street, White River Junction, Monday-Friday from 12 noon-6 p.m.

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