by Clark Groome
Central to N. Richard Nash’s delightful “The Rainmaker” is Starbuck, the conman who arrives at the Curry family’s western Iowa farm during a cattle-killing, crop-destroying 1936 drought. Starbuck convinces the family that he is a rainmaker. For $100 he’ll bring the much-needed precipitation to the town within 24 hours.
His character is not unlike that of Professor Harold Hill of “The Music Man” fame. He should be charming, convincing and someone for whom you root, even though you know he is a fraud.
In the People’s Light and Theatre Company’s otherwise superb production, which runs through Oct.13, Michael Sharon’s Starbuck is crass and off-putting from the moment he enters the Currys’ farmhouse. This Starbuck is a man you want to see the Currys resist, not be taken in by.
It’s a shame that Sharon’s performance is so hard to take because the rest of the cast — Kevin Bergen, John Jarboe, Mark Lazar, Nancy McNulty, Pete Pryor and Graham Smith — is just about flawless. Interesting and appealing, they give life to their characters in a convincing way that makes the Curry family and the local sheriff and his deputy totally credible.
The story revolves around the Curry family’s hell-bent determination to get Lizzie (Nancy McNulty) married, preferably to the deputy, File (the always impressive Pete Pryor).
But Starbuck shows up, and the whole tone of the gentle, warm play changes when he’s on stage. It’s like adding bagpipes to a string quartet, especially when the piper is not very good.
Abigail Adams has directed with just the right touch. Her stunning physical production was designed by Wilson Chin (the farmhouse set), Terese Wadden (costumes), Dennis Parichy (the hot, dry lighting) and Christopher Colucci (sound and the appropriate original music).
Except for Sharon’s Starbuck, People’s Light’s “Rainmaker” is a treat. It’s just too bad that his performance detracts from an otherwise admirable evening.
For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org