When I was a Senior in college our theater director, Morris Pike, chose The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash as our fall play. Looking back on this I believe he chose it because he wanted Phil Linerode and I to be in it. Yes, we had to audition. But he knew what he wanted. For many years I considered this the best play out there. The play is set in Nebraska during a drought. But the main character, Lizzie, is also in a drought. She is 27 (an old “old maid”.)
The interesting thing about this play is that everyone wants something. By the end of the play everyone has what they wanted.
The role of Lizzie has always been my favorite stage role. In the key scene in the tackroom the Rainmaker, Starbuck, is telling Lizzie about his dream to make rain. All of Starbuck’s dreams are BIG dreams. Lizzie tries to explain that a woman’s dreams are small quiet ones that come to her as she’s putting moth flakes in a closet. He asks her what kind of dreams. “Like children laughing and teasing and setting up a ruckus. Or a man’s voice saying scratch here between my shoulder blades. Or what it means to say the word husband.”
I think this play appeals to the heart of a woman. Lizzie is strong with inner beauty. But she also knows that only by having her own family will she feel whole.
At the end of the play no rain has come. File, the sheriff’s deputy has come to arrest Starbuck. But the family convinces File to let Starbuck go. Before he leaves he even gives back the $100 he conned them out of to make the rain.
But then the rain comes. Starbuck comes back for his money but then he says to Lizzie, “It’s lonely as dying out there. Come with me.” But before she can decide File says to her, “Lizzie don’t go.”
Lizzie looks to her father, “What’ll I do?”
His response, “Whatever you do Lizzie, you’ve been asked. You don’t have to go through life a woman that ain’t been asked.”
Of all the roles I’ve done this is the one that I sank my teeth into, my heart into, and my soul into. For in many ways I was Lizzie. It would be eight years after that before I finally married.
Until about five years ago I did not think I would find another play that I liked as much as The Rainmaker. Robert and I appeared as grandparents in Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro. It became my second most favorite play. Again I was playing a strong woman who loved her family deeply. And a character much closer to my present age. The most wonderful part about doing this play was seeing one of our actors turn a corner to be a real actor. The young man playing the grandson was very good at silly characters but one monologue in this play had him talking about the death of his grandfather, my character’s husband. Opening night he just said the words. But Saturday night he felt them. He began to cry and almost couldn’t finish the lines. It was so beautiful seeing him evolve to a real actor that feels. The six of us backstage were quietly delighted. He came off the stage and we were all hugging him. And he said, “What was that? That was so outside my comfort zone!” We all explained to him that he just became real.
There are myriad reasons why these plays appeal to me. Mostly as an actress it is because the women have great depth and feeling. And when I performed them I knew that the audience felt a responsive chord to these women. I know this because I could hear my father crying in the audience when we did The Rainmaker.