If Robert Standley is The Rainmaker—and he most flamboyantly is—then Jack Heller must be the Starmaker for the way he directs Tanna Frederick in her role as Lizzie, the sad spinster-lady of the Curry family.
Usually cast as a ditzy comedienne, Frederick literally changes her persona to turn in a magnificent performance as a conflicted, tense, and prickly housekeeper for her father and two brothers. She is wound as tight as her hair, which is pulled back into an unflattering bun that makes the usually attractive Frederick look plain and unfeminine. It is clear she is aware of this quality when she invites Starbuck, the rainmaker, to talk with her “man to man.”
As the play opens, Lizzie is just back from a humiliating and fruitless visit to her cousin’s, whose family includes six bachelor brothers, five of whom don’t want to marry her. The sixth, who does, is nine years old.
Lizzie, who has a crush on a dour local deputy-sheriff (Scott Roberts) Is filled with dreams of marriage and intimacies (“Could you please scratch between my shoulder blades”) and avoids the suspicion that that dream will never come true.
But her older brother Noah (David Garver) is always there to confirm her fears. A bitter, angry man, Noah sees the worst in everyone. Which certainly doesn’t bode well for Starbuck, the rainmaker, when he shows up and offers to provide rain for the Currys’ drought-stricken farm.
Standley plays Starbuck delightfully over the top, embellishing his biography with fantasy, teeth clicks, and finger snaps as he bounces around the stage.
Stephen Howard and Benjamin Chamberlain, both of whom are wonderful, play the amicable father of the family, H.C., and the youngest son, Jim, who is sweet, but not so bright. These two, if not totally convinced that Stsrbuck can make it rain, are at least willing to give him the
benefit of the doubt.
Lizzie and Noah are the holdouts, so Starbuck revs up the charm and, in Lizzie’s case, collides with her dreams, her hopes, and her vision of herself.
All the players are ablaze in this terrific version of N. Richard Nash’s classic play, thanks to Jack Heller’s careful direction, Christopher Stone’s beautiful set design, Juliet Klanchar’s lighting, and Kelly Fluker’s costumes.
But, bottom line, the play belongs to Tanna Frederick, and Meryl Streep couldn’t do it better.
The Rainmaker will continue at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Soundays at 5 through March 24th. Call (310) 392-7327 for tickets.
Photo: The Curry family (from left) David Garver, Stephen Howard, Tanna Frederick, and Benjamin Chamberlain
by Ron Vignone