The Rainmaker

Cary Players
Through May 6

We’re prepared to diagnose Cary Players’ current production of The Rainmaker as a case of growing pains. Along with a major upgrade in venue (the tasteful proscenium theater in the still-sparkling Cary Arts Center on Dry Street downtown), the company has recently seen an accompanying uptick in publicity and promotion, anchored by the eye-popping home page on their professionally redesigned site.

One of the region’s younger community theater companies (concluding their first decade this year), the Players also seem to be reaching out to known names in Raleigh’s established theater scene. Staci Sabarsky, the director of this show, has done notable work at Raleigh Ensemble Players, and her cast includes longtime local actor Phil Crone and the up-and-coming Eric Morales. The decision to recruit more experienced hands makes sense, because a number of troupes in the region regularly transcend the tight budgets and limited production values of community-based theater.

Cary Players’ new initiatives constitute moves in the right direction. But after the opening night of The Rainmaker, it’s equally clear that more moves are still needed, particularly in casting and script selection, before the group can come into its own. Despite Brad Sizemore’s evocative, professional set, which was lit by Michael Lefler, the performances in this production are uneven. Though we want to see new blood on regional stages, performers also have to be seasoned enough to hold down primary roles, and that didn’t always appear to be the case on opening night. Amateur-level acting (or work just above) in several roles exposed flaws in N. Richard Nash’s 1954 Western melodrama (which sparked a film version with Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, and the musical 110 in the Shade) that two more accomplished area mountings in the last 10 years managed to distract us from.

Natalie Turgeon finds some of the pain and exasperation of Lizzie, a young single woman outside a prairie town in 1934. And Crone anchors the show as her father. Steve Whetzel, however, needs to dial down the cheesier aspects of his title character, an itinerant con man who might break the punishing drought on a rainless plainand in a woman’s life. Metaphor, anyone?

Most of these actors still have some growing to do. Following the improvements in venue and production values, Cary Players now needs to upgrade the work we see on stage.

This article appeared in print with the headline “The wired help.”