Theater review: ‘The Rainmaker’ by Brevard Little Theatre

Tate Albert, center, as Starbuck, charms the Curry family into paying him to make it rain. The latest production by Brevard Little Theatre runs though Aug. 27.
Tate Albert, center, as Starbuck, charms the Curry family into paying him to make it rain. The latest production by Brevard Little Theatre runs though Aug. 27. Photo by Tommy Propest

Brevard Little Theatre has something quite special with its production of Richard Nash’s classic, The Rainmaker. The show runs through Sunday, Aug. 27.

The Curry family is facing a drought in the early 20th century. Patriarch H.C., played by Brian Howell, strives to keep the faith, while fastidious son Noah (Xpress contributor Kai Elijah Hamilton) is the sensible manager of the family ranch. Young, impetuous Jimmy (Miles Rice) is full of youthful energy. He’s more interested in chasing a young local girl than worrying about the struggling ranch. Top priority for the family is finding a husband for Jimmy’s and Noah’s sister Lizzie (Matilyn Hull), who is rapidly approaching the age when social conventions of the time deem her too old to find a man.

The family dynamic is believable from the start. Hamilton’s Noah is a tough role. It would be easy to make him sullen and underplay the part. Hamilton effectively prevents Noah from becoming the outright antagonist that a lesser actor might be tempted to make him. Rice particularly shines as the rambunctious Jimmy. As Lizzie, Hull is perhaps too young for the role, but her talent and onstage presence easily overcome. Hull is such a charming and talented actor that you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on stage.

A side plot follows File, the local sheriff’s deputy. The Curry men think he would be a fine husband for Lizzie. File (Doug Denton) harbors a dark secret, though, and he is reluctant. He has told everyone that his wife died, but the sheriff (Steve Woodsmall) calls him out on it. Everyone knows that she left him, but they all like File so much that they are willing to indulge his lie.

Tate Albert, as Starbuck, arrives with a flourish at the end of the first act. He sweeps into the Curry home,promising to make it rain and save the town from the drought. Noah is skeptical, Jimmy is taken with the charming stranger and, out of desperation, H.C. is willing to give anything a try. Lizzie is skeptical too, but ultimately charmed, as Starbuck helps her realize she is beautiful and worthy of so much more than she has come to accept and expect.

Albert does not have the swagger and outward appearance that one would expect for Starbuck. At first, he comes across more like an insurance salesman than a wide-eyed conman. But ultimately Albert lends a surprisingly earnest take on the typically flamboyant role. In fact, casting a less stereotypical actor in the role adds a deeper pathos in the scenes where he helps Lizzy find her own confidence.

The visually sumptuous stage design by BJ Winchester sets a warm and welcoming vibe that greets audiences as they enter the theater. Jonathan Forrester (with assistant director Jennifer Memolo) is quickly becoming a stand-out local director. He creates a tapestry of performances that come across as real, and the actors disappear into the roles they inhabit.

Brevard Little Theatre is still something of a well-kept secret within the Western North Carolina theater scene, though its been around since the 1930s. Perhaps quality shows like this one will change all that.

WHAT: The Rainmaker
WHERE: Brevard Little Theatre, 55 E. Jordan St, Brevard
WHEN: Through Sunday, Aug. 27. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. $6-$18

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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