N. Richard Nash's "The Rainmaker," most familiar as an overwrought 1956 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, is actually a gentle, surprisingly durable romantic comedy. Who knew?
It's a frequent phenomenon in Hollywood. Marquee value trumps dramatic integrity more often than not. Although her portrayal of Lizzie Curry, the yearning spinster of the film, was certainly iconic, Hepburn was quite simply miscast in the role. And, as the fast-talking con man, Starbuck, the ever-hammy Lancaster declaimed his lines rather than emoting them.
Andrew J. Traister's current staging at A Noise Within affords a welcome chance to experience the play in its unsullied form, with an age appropriate Lizzie (Bridget Flanery) and a richly credible Starbuck (Bo Foxworth.) More revelatory, however, are the wryly well-drawn supporting characters. Largely reduced to ciphers in the film, they act as crucial counterbalances to the play's potential over-sentimentality.
Set in 1954, the action transpires on a western ranch, where the "plain" Lizzie lives with her salt-of-the-earth father HC (Mitchell Edmonds); her dour, controlling older brother Noah (Steve Weingartner); and her rawboned, puppy-like brother Jimmy (Ross Hellwig). When her prospective romance with File (Scott Roberts), a local deputy sheriff, hits a dead end, Lizzie fears she'll never get a man.
A prolonged drought -- obviously metaphoric of Lizzie's own dried-up prospects -- has devastated the area, until Starbuck, a flashy, fast-talking "rainmaker," offers relief for both Lizzie and the landscape.
Of course, today, pejoratives like "old maid" and "spinster" seem outmoded if not downright sexist. Put your post-feminist ire aside, however, and you will find "The Rainmaker" fascinates, not only as a barometer of society's lightning-fast changes but as a down-to-earth period piece of unstinting humanity.
In a keenly pitched staging, Traister keeps the tone heightened and the pacing sharp, and the gifted cast, which includes Leonard Kelly-Youngas the town sheriff, never misses a beat. David O's original music, James P. Taylor's set and lighting design, Julie Keen's costumes and Rachel Myles' sound are yet more praiseworthy elements of this leisurely, lovely production.
"The Rainmaker," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Call for schedule or go to www.anoisewithin.org. Ends Dec. 6. $40-$44. (818) 240-0910, Ext 1. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times