Drought. A con man. Love. An all-American play, The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash gets a superb production by 1st Stage in Tysons, Virginia. Directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes, the associate artistic director of 1st Stage, the revival features Tamieka Chavis as Lizzie Curry at the center of this emotionally charged and uplifting story.
A stranger comes to town. This is one of the main story drivers in Western literature. In The Rainmaker, the stranger, Bill Starbuck, as charismatically played by Matthew Sparacino is promising much-needed rain to the drought-stricken Texas ranch. He makes a deal, betting the desperate Curry family a hundred dollars that he can produce rain in the next twenty-four hours.
The Curry family, however, needs more than rain or relief from the 102-degree heat.
Lizzie, accused by her brother Noah — played with pointed, spot-on bullying by Vince Eisenson — of becoming a plain old maid, needs a way out. Her other brother, Jim, ebulliently played by Jonathan Del Palmer, provides comic relief and a counterpoint to Noah, though he agrees: she needs to find a husband.
At first glance, the arrival of Starbuck and the invitation to the ranch to the local sheriff and potential suitor, File, seem to provide a way out for Lizzie. Jacob Yeh as File embodies all the awkwardness and insecurity of a suitor with a secret.
But there’s more, and this is where Chavis takes the reins of this role along with the beautifully moving performance of H.C. Curry by Scott Sedar as her sympathetic, insightful, and loving father. I must confess here — I am a sap for father-daughter stories because I was raised by a single father. I fell hard for the scenes between father and daughter, as well as the scenes between father and sons, especially when the hardscrabble paterfamilias overlooks the tryst between Starbucks and Lizzie — and leans into tenderness.
Ultimately, it is Lizzie who must recognize her own worth — and her own beauty. She must make the decision about whom to love, and in these moments, notably in the more dramatic ones, her performance shines. She must save herself. This is where the story, which could have pivoted to old-fashioned memes of womanhood, saves itself. It’s a tribute to the playwright N. Richard Nash to have written such a layered, central role for a woman character in 1954, which transcends the old maid clichés, as well as for Tamieka Chavis for her riveting performance in 2022.
The characters might be hoping for rain, but ultimately, we are hoping for love to rain down on them. In the end, we get both.
A shoutout to the sound design created by navi and the original music of banjo, guitar, and violin by Ryan Buell, whose interludes transport the audience back to the 1930s without feeling old-timey. In addition, the richly wooded retro set design by Nadir Bey and the lighting design by Minjoo Kim perfectly evoke the ranch life of the 1930s.
A triumphant production of The Rainmaker by the multi-talented Deidra LaWan Starnes and the cast and crew.
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
EXTENDED: The Rainmaker plays through December 18, 2022, at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA. To purchase tickets ($15, student, military, educators; $47, seniors; $50, general admission), go online or call 703-854-1856. The first 20 tickets for each performance are only $20. Plus, a YES pass for high school students in Fairfax County offers free subscriptions. See details here.
The program for The Rainmaker is downloadable here.
COVID Safety: All patrons, volunteers, and staff are required to be masked while inside the 1st Stage Theatre facility. See 1st Stage’s complete COVID Safety Information here.