Watching First Folio Theatre present their new production of "The Rainmaker" Saturday night on the outdoor stage at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. and Rt. 83 in Oakbrook, Ill., I couldn't imagine it being done in a traditional inside performance space.
The company selected this meaningful and entertaining romantic drama to begin the new 2013-2014 season and cast and production earns far better than just "fair weather" review notice for this sunny run until Sept. 1.
Directed by First Folio Theatre Co-Founder, Alison C. Vesely, Angela Weber Miller has dreamed up an intricate and multi-level set as an ideal backdrop to every scene in this two and a half hour story of a charming con man named Starbuck who comes to a drought stricken Western town on a hot summer day, changing the lives and perceptions of those he meets. When he begins romancing the spinster daughter of a wealthy farmer, despite the objections of her wary brothers, the attention shifts from the skies above to the clouds within.
A profound Depression-era tale written by N. Richard Nash, there are drops of humor and hope throughout. The story originally premiered in New York in 1954 and was then made into a 1956 film starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn in the lead roles. This play has been translated into over 40 languages and was later also made into a Broadway musical called "110 in the Shade."
This run stars Hayley L. Rice as Lizzie Curry, who fears time has passed her by for marriage. She delivers a strong portrayal, just as Chesterton actor Joseph Wycoff dazzles as Starbuck, a man with so much charm and confidence, it's easy to believe he can control the clouds above. Aaron Christensen is right as rain in the role of File, the law enforcement figure who is level-headed, much like talented Matthew Keffer's take on Lizzie's brother Noah and David Rice as her father. Alex Weisman is amazingly on target and provides high humor as Lizzie's other brother Jimmy. René Ruelas rounds out the cast as Sheriff Thomas.
Seeing a performance of "The Rainmaker" in an outdoor setting, with the canopy of trees under a frame of stars and ink-black skies makes the experience an even closer connection to this tale of hope and spirit floating in a see of desperation.
First Folio is easy to get to via the East-West Tollway I-88 or the Stevenson Expressway I-55. Free parking is available on the grounds. Tickets are $32 Wednesdays and Thursdays with seniors and students priced at $26, and $37 on Fridays through Sundays, with seniors and students are $30. FYI: (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org. All performances start at 8:15 p.m.