Easily book your tickets for “The Rainmaker” online here.
The new production by City Repertory Theatre tells the story of “the quintessential con man” who arrives in a troubled town with a brazen promise that he can fix things.
No, this City Rep offering isn’t a freshly penned take on modern America, rich in seams of quackery as it is. Rather, it’s a staged reading of “The Rainmaker,” N. Richard Nash’s 1954 play about a Depression-era, drought-stricken Texas town and the glib stranger who arrives with a promise that he can bring rain – for a fee.
“ ‘The Rainmaker’ is not a political play,” says City Rep director John Sbordone with a hearty chuckle. “However, it might have contemporary . . .”
He pauses, pondering his words as carefully as a West Texas jackrabbit tiptoeing past a rattlesnake bin.
“It might have contemporary . . . er, flashes of insight,” Sbordone adds.
So, just how relevant is the play to today, especially given the events – well, the event of early November?
“The election?” Sbordone asks, a certain impishness easing into his voice. But he doesn’t take the bait. Instead he sees Starbuck, the sweet-tongued “rainmaker” that he labels the “quintessential con man,” as being more akin to the con artist of “The Music Man,” that 1957 musical, than to the current political scene.
“The Rainmaker” stars Annie Gaybis as Lizzie Curry, a plain, spinsterish woman who lives with her father and two brothers. While drought threatens the Currys’ cattle ranch, Lizzie’s family longs to find her a husband. A charming stranger named Starbuck, played by Peter Gutierrez, arrives with a promise to bring rain – for a $100 fee – even as he rains attention on Lizzie.
“The Rainmaker” “is an American classic,” Sbordone says. “Richard Nash is a fine playwright. It’s a well-structured play. It tells a good story. It’s true to its characters.”
If anything, the play, which Nash in his introduction wanted staged “through a romantically gauzed lens,” goes against the grain of City Repertory’s more daring and politically overt fare. “The Rainmaker” is at heart a sentimental comedy that reprises some of the oldest mythologies of America’s Great Plains optimism: the faker and the husband-hunting rube whose mutual combustion unravels their greater selves. It’s simple, unpretentious, gut-twirling and at times saccharine. If anything, it’s an air-clearing counterpoint to the recent drizzle of arsenic on the American landscape.
Gaybis and Gutierrez are not only City Rep veterans – they’ve also starred together in various productions, including staged readings of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” as well as Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two” at Flagler Auditorium this past September.
“They most definitely have a good chemistry,” Sbordone says.
The play’s staged-reading format means that, yes, the cast will be reading from readily visible scripts. But the reading is really an illusion. What the performers create through their reading is the reality, and in the right hands it can be as mesmerizing as any fast-action flick.
“We’ve had great success with staged readings going back to ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Pygmalion,’ ” Sbordone says. “It allows us to do plays that may be a bit too complex for us to (fully) stage. It also gives the actors an opportunity to do a special technique that I call ‘off-stage focus.’ ”
The technique is one in which the actors “see” each other “just above the audience and they interact with the images they see just above the audience,” Sbordone says. Theater-goers are “then able to see the play in the area between the actors and the audience. It’s an older technique that comes out of readers’ theater and oral interpretation, and it’s quite successful.”
Kip Taisey, an assistant professor of theater at Flagler College in St. Augustine, will be making his City Rep debut as File, a deputy sheriff who becomes a potential love interest for Lizzie.
“Kip hadn’t used this off-stage focus technique before,” Sbordone says. “After two rehearsals he commented, ‘Wow, that really allows us to focus in different ways.’ To me it works because I can’t see five and six people moving on stage, bumping into each other with scripts in their hands. To me that just doesn’t make sense.”
Sbordone notes that some theatrical troupes present staged readings that are less ambitious than those of City Rep.
“Sometimes you can see a staged reading for different purposes, in which people just get up and read scripts, and they go through it a couple of times before they put it in front of an audience,” he says. “Our purpose is different — ours is to create the reality of the play.
“We take particular care to rehearse these sufficiently so that the actors are preparing as if they were playing a regular role. The only difference is there is a script in front of them.”
At a premiere performance on Sunday Nov. 13, Sbordone says, “The audience remarked, ‘My God, once you got into it, we were able to see everything in front of us and lose sight there are people reading.’ ”
A staged reading of “The Rainmaker” at 7:30 p.m. Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19, and at 2 p.m. Sunday Nov. 20 in City Marketplace, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite 207B, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20, available by calling 386-585-9415 or booked easily online here.