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Lizzie Curry is almost out of hope. Her marriage prospects are dim and the knowledge that she is a “plain” woman, well on her way to a lonely spinster’s life, worries her father and two brothers almost as much as the dying cattle on their drought-stricken Midwestern ranch. Then one evening a fast-talking, charismatic con man named Starbuck arrives, promising to bring rain in exchange for $100. Hovering between their dreams of renewal and the reality of their doubts, Lizzie and her family struggle to believe in Starbuck’s promise of rebirth, a rebirth that will slake not only the thirst of their parched land but, more importantly, one that will restore the hope in Lizzie’s aching heart.

This is the premise of N. Richard Nash’s tender, romantic comedy, The Rainmaker, which has received an equally warm and affectionate staging at the Mad Cow Theatre under the direction of Rob Anderson. A talented cast of seven, led by the inspired performance of Jennifer Christa Palmer as Lizzie, manages to convey all of the love and sympathy that playwright Nash instilled in his characters. The result is a winning production that washes over an audience like a welcome cool rain on a hot summer night.

While Palmer shines as Lizzie, the unadorned country girl who, under Starbuck’s tutelage, finally comes to realize her own special beauty, other members of the company turn in equally enjoyable portrayals. Chief among them is Scott Hodges as Lizzie’s youngest brother, Jim, a simple boy who relentlessly believes in miracles, even as big brother Noah, well played by John Bateman, persists in quashing his childlike beliefs. Mark Edward Smith as the Currys’ doting father, H.C., and Paul Carbonell as deputy sheriff File are also quite endearing.

Don Fowler, a talented actor who has appeared in several Mad Cow productions over the years, manages to convey Starbuck’s good-natured blustering and conniving, as well as his honest and affecting self-doubt, but he’s somewhat miscast as the handsome, virile stranger personified so indelibly by Burt Lancaster in the 1956 Hollywood film based on Nash’s script (which also starred Katherine Hepburn). Instead of the promise of lightning and thunder, with all its implied sexual overtones, Fowler’s somewhat milquetoast presence is rather that of a salesman pushing a drought insurance policy; he’s just not “big” enough to fill Starbuck’s boots.

That cavil aside, The Rainmaker will delight audiences with engaging performances and uplift them with its message of hope and redemption.

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