If Robert Standley is the rainmaker — and he most flamboyantly is — then Jack Heller must be the starmaker for the way he directs Tanna Frederick in her role as Lizzie, the sad spinster-lady of the Curry family, in the Edgemar Center for the Arts’ presentation of “The Rainmaker.”
Usually cast as a ditzy comedienne, Frederick literally changes her persona to turn in a magnificent performance as a conflicted, tense, and prickly housekeeper for her father and two brothers. She is wound as tight as her hair, which is pulled back into an unflattering bun that makes the usually attractive Frederick look plain and unfeminine. It is clear she is aware of this quality when she invites Starbuck, the rainmaker, to talk with her “man to man.”
As the play opens, Lizzie is just back from a humiliating and fruitless visit to her cousin’s, whose family includes six bachelor brothers, five of whom don’t want to marry her. The sixth, who does, is 9 years old.
Lizzie, who has a crush on a dour local deputy-sheriff (Scott Roberts), is filled with dreams of marriage and intimacy (“Could you please scratch between my shoulder blades?”) and avoids the suspicion that that dream will never come true.
But her older brother Noah (David Garver) is always there to confirm her fears. A bitter, angry man, Noah sees the worst in everyone. Which certainly doesn’t bode well for Starbuck, the rainmaker, when he shows up and offers to provide rain for their drought-stricken farm.
Standley plays Starbuck delightfully over the top, embellishing his biography with fantasy, teeth clicks, and finger snaps as he bounces around the stage.
Stephen Howard and Benjamin Chamberlain, both of whom are wonderful, play the amicable father of the family, H.C., and the youngest son, Jim, who is sweet, but not so bright. These two, if not totally convinced that Starbuck can make it rain, are at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Lizzie and Noah are the holdouts, so Starbuck revs up the charm and, in Lizzie’s case, collides with her dreams, her hopes, and her vision of herself.
All the players are ablaze in this terrific version of N. Richard Nash’s classic play, thanks to Heller’s careful direction, Christopher Stone’s beautiful set design, Juliet Klanchar’s lighting and Kelly Fluker’s costumes.
But, bottom line, the play belongs to Frederick, and Meryl Streep couldn’t do it better.
“The Rainmaker” will continue at the Edgemar Center, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. through March 24. Call (310) 392-7327 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.