Reviewed by Judy Richter
H. Richard Nash's romantic comedy opened on Broadway in 1954 and is set during the Depression, but it has a contemporary feel, especially in drought-stricken California.
A western ranching family, the Currys, like many others, is coping with a prolonged drought that is taking a heavy toll on cattle. Then along comes a fast-talking con man who tries to convince them that he can produce rain within the next 24 hours if he's given $100 in advance. Despite misgivings by two family members, he gets his money.
The family is headed by H.C. Curry (Randall King), an insightful, caring widower with three adult children. The blunt, practical Noah (Will Springhorn Jr.) manages the ranch. Jim (Brandon Leland), the youngest, is a sweet but none-too-bright dreamer. The men keep hoping that their sister, Lizzie (Allison F. Rich), will get married, but she sees herself as a plain woman who doesn't know how to attract a man.
Her brothers and father believe that a good fit for her might be the sheriff's deputy, File (Joe Estlack). However, File has closed himself off from companionship, even that of the puppy offered by Sheriff Thomas (Michael Bellino).
Bill Starbuck (Johnny Moreno) is indeed a con man, but he helps to bring about changes for the good, starting with Lizzie. He convinces her that she's not plain, that she's a beautiful woman. She, in turn, helps to bring File out of his shell. Her brothers are changed for the better, too.
Director Jessa Brie Moreno (wife of the actor) elicits believable, likable performances from the entire cast, especially Rich as Lizzie and Moreno as Starbuck. The director and actors mine the play's gentle good humor and allow the characters to develop naturally.
Moreno also keeps the action moving smoothly during the three-act show, done with one intermission. She's assisted by the design team, starting with Giulio Perrone, whose simple set creates a rustic ambience and allows for seamless scene changes. Also contributing on the design side are David Gotlieb for lighting, Cliff Caruthers for sound and Cassandra Carpenter for costumes.
Californians can readily identify with the characters' almost desperate longing for rain and lots of it, which is what con man Bill Starbuck promises -- all logic aside. Perhaps another title for this play could be "Dreaming in a Time of Drought."
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