A cozy little romantic drama with touches of comedy, The Rainmaker still speaks to audiences after more than a half-century. Originating as a television play in 1953, Richard Nash's best-known work hit Broadway in 1954 and Hollywood two years later. There's even a musical version (110 in the Shade, which seemed like a good idea in 1963).
Modest but detailed set. Small but tight acting ensemble portraying "ordinary" folks. It's a good fit for the Orchard Performing Arts Company at the Apple Hill Playhouse.
Set in a vague part of the American Southwest in a vague 1920-ish past, Rainmaker is fraught with unrequited (and a few requited) passions, all discreetly offstage. The prosperous but hurting Curry family is suffering through both a drought (read: symbolism for pent-up sexual desire) and the waning marriage prospects of the clan's lone female.
Obviously, her unwed status is as calamitous as the heat wave and just as inevitable as the weather. The most likely suitor is an emotionally constipated divorced man who can't even commit to a household pet. Into this steamy situation bursts the title character, who precipitates romances and family shake-ups, if not necessarily the showers he promises.
Director Kevin J. Saunders keeps the action flowing smoothly among the motley cast members, most notably among the central family. Dennis "Chip" Kerr cheerfully portrays the ebullient, ever-optimistic patriarch. Nate Newell stomps stormily through the role of eldest son, perpetual pessimist. (He's named Noah, get it? No? There's also the irony of Noah living amidst the complete absence of water.) Frankie Shupp is an absolute charmer as the younger brother who matures into a man by play's end. But the focus is on Megan Krimmel, in reality too young to be an "old maid," yet a credible and winning chin-up model of Lizzie, an honest woman with "small" but heartfelt dreams.
Outside the family circle, the production gets a little shakier. Andy Nesky plays the good-hearted small-town sheriff affably enough, and Daniel Murray, as the suitor, doesn't have to do much besides remain stoical until the final scene. (Though why both men keep their hats on in the Curry house, with a lady present, is at best an anachronistic no-no.)
The weak link is Rick Dutrow, who should be physically and vocally smooth as the title character, the bombastic Starbuck. But if his roller-coaster moments don't thrill, in his quieter scenes with Krimmel, Dutrow suffices.
Credit is due technical director Ryan Hadbavny and the folks who assisted him in putting together the fine set: Autumn Kunselman, Meghan O'Halloran and Craig Wobrak; and to executive producer Pay Beyer, who also did the costumes. Plus a tip of my hat for the subtle background noises (including a far-offstage mule) from sound-and-light operators Caitlin Young and Stephen Young, and to stage manager and assistant Rod Ruckenbrod and Ashley Bodnar.
Not too deep yet not shallow, dotted with homey humor, The Rainmaker is still a comforting and comfortable entertainment for a late summer's evening.
The Rainmaker continues through Sept. 19. Apple Hill Playhouse, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org