Hope springs eternal

The Rainmaker

Dick Mangrum consoles Sarah Cohen in a poignant moment from Woodland Opera House’s production of <i>The Rainmaker</i>.

Dick Mangrum consoles Sarah Cohen in a poignant moment from Woodland Opera House’s production of The Rainmaker.

Rated 4.0

You might jump to the conclusion that The Rainmaker is a Western. It is, after all, set on a drought-ravaged ranch, and the men wear cowboy hats and boots. Playwright N. Richard Nash also wrote the script (once popular but now seldom produced) in the 1950s, when the Western ruled the box office.

But it’s actually a story about overcoming self-doubt and negative expectations and letting yourself live up to your full potential. You might say it’s almost a hymn to self-esteem written decades before self-esteem became a pop-psychology buzzword.

The story revolves around four members of the Curry family, who have a problem. Eldest son Noah is a flat-Earth thinker, glumly warning younger brother Jim, who’s in love with a floozy, that he’s not too bright and that his romance will lead him to disaster. Noah also reminds sister Lizzie that she’s “plain” and predicts that she’ll become an old maid. Father H.C. Curry watches and worries, looking for an opportunity to help Jim and Lizzie get past the negative expectations.

This quartet is well-cast. Dick Mangrum, as the father, can play the strong, savvy, stoic older man better than any actor in town. (Mangrum won an Elly for his work in Woodland’s Foxfire a couple years ago.) Earl Victorine fleshes out Noah’s dark practicality. Mark Garbe brings a bright, spontaneous smile to Jim, and Sarah Cohen (as Lizzie) shows intelligence, shyness, uncertainty and self-doubt.

Everything changes when a charming—if dubious—stranger comes through the door, offering to make rain for $100. His name is Starbuck (Troy Thomas, with a winning smile and silky-smooth delivery) and he’s obviously a con man. But H.C. takes him up on the offer anyway.

The story’s other characters are File, a lanky deputy who’s inwardly stewing over a failed marriage, and Sheriff Thomas, the prototype country lawman who’s looking out for the people in his town and doesn’t want any problems. (File is played by Joel Renter, who’s quiet and effective; Bruce Lohse looks like he actually could win an election as county sheriff.)

What unfolds is both a comedy and a romance, as doubt gives way to hope. The play is moderately long and talky, but director John Lee taps into humor and hope at the right points. The show is handsomely designed (with a set by John Murphy and costumes by Laurie Everly-Klassen), and the 1890s atmosphere of the Woodland Opera House lends an additional lift.