FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – A boy of 12 or so put together a crystal set. That’s a square of wood for a base, copper wire wound around a four-inch tube and a bit of crystal that, together, receive radio signals. Voila!
For an antenna, the boy strung up a football field length of wire back and forth along the ceiling of his room and into the adjacent the attic. Every night, he tuned in to the one station that could be heard clearly, WEMP in Milwaukee. What seemed to be a castoff headset from a barnstormer lay next to his head the next morning. He fell asleep listening.
A crystal set is an item of discussion in the play the boy saw Friday night at Peninsula Players Theatre.
One brother – a hardball kind – disses the set for producing nothing but static. The other brother – a romantic sort –a says he has heard Kansas City.
A kind of blues music from back when is associated with Kansas City.
Prior to the performance of “The Rainmaker,” music with an emphatic blues groove is played throughout the theater and at an area along the shore of the bay of Green Bay where theatergoers gather to watch sunsets. The audience is being set up.
The crystal set and the music are subtle factors in the play. Subtly, time and place and a kind of music some people in the play listen to imbue an aura.
“The Rainmaker” has been produced many times in many countries, and it has been made into a musical and a number of movies. All include a likeness in the characters. Now, what director Linda Fortunato and her creative collaborators and cast create is perhaps one of a kind. Using the same words from 1954 and the same situation – a ranch family and a drought – they meld a current atmosphere in society. A core note seems to be stories are stories and people are people.
One of the play’s attractions is it has a mystic element. The rainmaker character arrives through a door that opens before he is anywhere near. And then, when he speaks, it’s in rhapsodic ways as if he is selling an elixir for all that ails – in this case water by rain. The family is suffering, and its herd is dying. For $100, Starbuck assures he can produce rain with the family’s help. One person beats a drum thricely, another points a white arrow in just the right direction and a third ties the back legs of a mule.
Starbuck along the way has another rainmaker-type project, Lizzie. Lizzie’s father and brothers determine she is of an age when should be married and try to be helpful while standing in the way at the same time. The word “plain” tips Lizzie’s confidence a-turtle.
In ways, “The Rainmaker” is of the past. It has a throwback feel in look and how people interact. But it has forever factors in how playwright N. Richard Nash weaves complicated dynamics of family on a checkerboard of romance – with humor along with dire dealings of 100-plus heat and a deadly drought tossed in.
The meaty play is in keeping with how Peninsula Players Theatre typically opens its season. This is the company’s 87th season, and it looks to be more in keeping with a Players season since COVID-19 invaded in 2020.
“The Rainmaker” expresses the quality expected of the company in look and presentation.
The set is a ranch house interior in the center, a sheriff’s office to the audience’s left and a tack house (stable) to the right. The backdrop is the color of hot and arid, a mean-looking yellow-pink. The furnishings of the living area say the family has been successful.
The actors are interested in this new approach to the story. That means they’re interesting.
Sean Blake portrays the patriarch of family. H.C. Curry is a guidepost, but he has stepped aside for the business side of the ranch.
Kai A. Ealy portrays the elder son, Noah, who is rigid in necessary dealings and rough in treating others. Noah has advice galore, and he sticks by his opinions.
Xavier Edward King portrays Jim, the younger brother who is a rascal. Jim knows how to have fun, and he is having a whole lot of fun with the unseen Snooki, whose name sounds like too much fun in Noah’s. book. Jim and Noah have disputes.
Greg Vinkler portrays Sheriff Thomas, a kindly and wry fellow who is trying to point his assistant in the right direction. “A fellow who locks himself in – he ain’t doing fine,” he says of File.
Ryan Hallahan portrays File, who calls himself a widower yet is hiding a truth.
Now for the crux of the play:
Ayanna Bria Bakari portrays Lizzie, a woman of flint who is looking for a fire to light. Lizzie knows where it is – in File – but she has things standing in her way – herself and the fellow. Plus, her family doesn’t help with such comments as, “She ain’t got what she needs to make her happy.”
Sean Fortunato portrays Bill Starbuck, a charismatic and flamboyant hocus-pocus type dream maker. All the answers spring from his silver tongue. When Starbuck arrives, his electricity puts the audience in awe.
Ayanna Bria Bakari and Sean Fortunato unleash top-notch performances.
Ayanna Bria Bakari sweeps through the big range of Lizzie that includes taking on floozy-type women in showy style and also becoming a searcher with no easy answers.
Sean Fortunato has all the equipment to be the flashy guy you want to believe and trust who you know in your head is faux. Sean Fortunato makes you believe in true theatrical performance.
This and that:
+ The production is a kind of time machine that visits a story not as it was originally but with an adopted lens. Relationships that would have shocked in the original version are matter of course to a greater degree today in some places.
+ The actors wear wireless headsets for amplification.
+ Dialects are a factor.
+ The movable side walls of the theater are open for air flow as a consideration of COVID-19 concerns.
+ Friday’s performance received a standing ovation.
+ The boy thinks the crystal set is the coolest thing he has seen in a play in a long time. He wonders if somebody in the theater company found it or if somebody made it. And how’s the reception in Door County?
Running time: Two hours, 18 minutes
Remaining performances: To July 3 – Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; except for Sunday, July 3, at 2 p.m.
Creative: Playwright – N. Richard Nash; director – Linda Fortunato; costume designer – Evelyn Danner; lighting designer – Guy Rhodes; scenic designer – Jessie Howe; intimacy director – Christopher Elst; sound designer – Joe Court; fight choreographer – Dan Klarer; scenic painter – Molly Cornell; stage manager – Kimberly Ann McCann; assistant stage manager – Kaitlin Kitzmiller; production manager – Paul Cook; artistic director – Linda Fortunato; managing director – Brian Kelsey
Cast (in order of appearance):
H.C. Curry – Sean Blake
Noah Curry – Kai A. Ealy
Jim Curry Xavier Edward King
Lizzie Curry – Ayanna Bria Bakari
File – Ryan Hallahan
Sheriff Thomas – Greg Vinkler
Bill Starbuck – Sean Fortunato
NEXT: “Write Me a Murder” by Frederick Knott, July 6-24.
THE VENUE: The location of Peninsula Players Theatre’s Theatre in a Garden is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas along the bay of Green Bay. The theater house is part of a campus that includes a workshop, office, rehearsal hall, dining hall, housing and more at 4351 Peninsula Players Road. Flowers and other decorative foliage grace footpaths that weave through the grounds, which have been extended to the south. Driving along Peninsula Players Road and passing farms and trees, the thought may occur: “This theater is in an unusual place.” The 621-seat theater house features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wooden slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 83 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure, which got wobbly with age. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.