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Review: THE RAINMAKER at 1st Stage

A warm, funny, touching romp.

Review: THE RAINMAKER at 1st Stage
L-R Jacob Yeh and Tamieka Chavis in
​​​​​the 1st Stage production of The Rainmaker.
Photo by Teresa Castracane.

American literature has a soft spot for con artists, those ruffians who, lacking the skills or inclination to earn an honest living, prosper by using sheer charm and creativity to tell other people what they most want to hear. These rapscallions, despite living by lying, often find themselves in a position to help other characters discover certain truths about themselves. 1st Stage's production of N. Edward Nash's 1954 play The Rainmaker is an enjoyable and entertaining visit with one such miscreant.

The story opens on the struggling, drought-wracked Depression-era midwest farm run by the widowed H.C. Curry (Scott Sedar) and his sons, the acerbic, level-headed Noah (Vince Eisenson) and younger and impulsive Jimmy(Jonathan Del Palmer). The fourth family member, Lizzie(Tamieka Chavis), has recently returned from a trip without having found a suitor, much to the dismay of her father and brothers, who immediately propose to arrange a meeting with deputy sheriff File(Jacob Yeh). Despite her protestations, Lizzie secretly fancies File, but thinks herself too "plain" to ever win him. File is similarly fond of Lizzie, but still reeling from the supposed death of his wife five years prior. (It is eventually revealed that she left him for another man, which he is too ashamed to admit.)

Into this unhappy tableaux comes Bill Starbuck (Matthew Sparacino), a handsome, silver-tongued fellow with his belongings in a knapsack and a proposal: if the Currys pay him $100 and perform a series of bizarre tasks, he will make it rain and end the drought. Over Noah's objections, H.C. and Jimmy agree to hire Starbuck, both out of desperation for any solution to their plight, and also thinking that he might be a potential suitor for Lizzie.

Over the next day, Starbuck woos Lizzie, who, despite her mistrust of him, begins to enjoy his company and, as she puts it, to feel pretty for the first time in her life. Meanwhile, File and the town Sheriff return to the farm, investigating reports of a criminal who has fleeced several other communities and is reported to be heading their way.

Under the direction of Deidra LaWan Starnes, the cast rises to the occasion. Chavis is both affecting and funny as Lizzie. A scene in which she attempts to woo File using stereotypically "feminine" gestures and tones brought sustained laughter from the audience.

Sparacino plays Starbuck with the inflated presence the role demands, putting conviction into his absurd promises. We don't believe him, but we find it easy to see why someone could, or would want to. In his scenes with Lizzie, where he for once flatters someone for reasons other than bilking them out of their money, we see vestiges of a decent man.

Del Palmer is a standout as the boisterous Jimmy, Starbuck's easiest mark. His task is to beat a drum to inspite rain, and he embraces it with hilarious enthusiasm, to the annoyance of the other characters. Like Lizzie, he discovers a newfound personal confidence as a result of the visit.

Innovative set design by Nadir Bey uses shifting walls to transition between the kitchen in the Currys' farmhouse, the Sheriff's office, and the stable tack room where Lizzie and Starbuck have their most meaningful exchange. This is complemented by Minjoo Kim's lighting.

All in all, The Rainmaker is not a masterpiece, but it is a warm, funny, touching romp well worth spending a cold day seeing.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

The Rainmaker runs at 1st Stage in Tyson's Corner through December 11, 2022. The venue is located at 1524 Spring Hill Road | Tysons, VA.



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