THE RAINMAKER, Common Thread Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. This 1954 Broadway hit by N. Richard Nash (originally coproduced by Chicago theater benefactor Hope Abelson as a vehicle for Geraldine Page) was a staple of community theater for years. But the tale is dated and seldom seen today: a smart, plain 1920s farm girl faces spinsterhood until a sexy con man awakens her inner beauty while promising to bring rain to her drought-stricken community. (The 1963 musical version, 110 in the Shade, is more frequently produced.) With the right actors the play can still tug the heartstrings–but success eludes director Steve Scott’s miscast revival.
Though Joy Sterling has some affecting moments as the emotionally parched Lizzie, she often seems more petulant than desperate. The big problem is James Moye as the rainmaker Starbuck and Kevin O’Brien as File, the deputy sheriff who realizes his love for Lizzie while he’s tracking Starbuck down. O’Brien’s thin voice and somewhat prissy presence are all wrong for this taciturn hunk, while the lightweight Moye’s rushed delivery misses the music and magic in Starbuck’s rhapsodic language, which mix Cyrano de Bergerac poeticism with a revivalist preacher’s swagger. A subplot about Lizzie’s young brother Jim’s infatuation with a “fast,” flirty blonde comes off better thanks to the understated interactions of Tim O’Brien as Jim, Michael Nanfria as his sourpuss older brother, and James Wilhelm as the clan’s worldly-wise patriarch. But where it counts, this Rainmaker barely manages a dramatic drizzle.