The Rainmaker
Knightsbridge Theatre



The crickets chirping can be distractingly loud when the wincingly dated and oft-revived 1954 bucolic warhorse The Rainmaker is resuscitated, but the Knightsbridge Theatre, director Chuck McCollum and his arresting ensemble have defied the odds, breathing significant new life into a rusty old classic.

N. Richard Nash’s characters still seem right out of Tennessee Williams, but more than ever in today’s media-hyped world, it’s crystal clear that his dialogue has none of the poetry energizing Williams’ work; his writing remains as dry as the land destroyed by drought on the Curry family’s farm in the Depression-era west, the future for his cliché-spouting characters as metaphorically bleak as Lizzie Curry’s need to “find her a man” before her biological clock bursts into flames from the debilitating heat.

The wonder is that McCollum and company have made Lizzie (Larissa Wise) and her all-male testosterone-hampered family immediately endearing despite the hokey lines and improbable situations. This is thanks in no small part to the remarkably Zen-simple performance of Paul Collins as the clan’s salt-of-the-earth father H.C., establishing a very real and sturdy familial bond the actors cast as his dysfunctional offspring easily embrace.

Zach Lewis is a refreshing find as H.C.’s hormonal younger lummox of a son, managing to take on his inner Gomer Pyle while creating Jimmy as genuinely lovable, never for a moment resorting to the usual caricature of an IQ-challenged farmboy. There’s an engaging defenselessness in Lewis’ delivery and a deep-seated isolation inherent in his character’s dumb goofiness, leaving the impression that any of us would give up our little red hat for this sweet country kid. 

John Sperry Sisk is an imposing presence as Starbuck, Lizzie’s sudden salvation from her drab existence, contributing an almost Shakespearean turn to the braying con man role that somehow works where so many actors before him have failed. I’d love to see Sisk some day check out his shadow in Laura’s candlelight as the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie, a play featuring dialogue worthy of his talent. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing Wise play opposite him again in Menagerie either, as long as I’m busy casting here.


Derek C. Burke and Floyd VanBuskirk bring a lot to the proceedings in the ungrateful roles of Lizzie’s laconic pseudo-beau File and his gee-willikers boss Sheriff Thomas, glaringly evident in the silly scene in the sheriff’s office when VanBuskirk blurts out more exposition than a documentary on the lonely lives of countryfolk—right before the Curry men come ‘round to help snare File for Lizzie in the most obvious way since a caveman first bludgeoned his intended over the head with a club.

Wise is a perfectly cast Lizzie, as is Geoffrey Hillback as her no-nonsense brother Noah, who’s “so full’a what’s right he can’t see what’s good,” but these roles contain the most convoluted traps for actors to sidestep, including Lizzie’s tendency to become the whiney, wallowing Willie Loman of the 50s and Noah her one-note moustache-twirling nemesis. Wise and Hillback have all the right tools and intellectual understanding, but both should be forewarned to not get overconfident and find themselves caught in Nash’s melodramatic snare as their run settles in.

Considering McCollum’s inventive staging on the wide Knightsbridge stage and his designers’ impressive contribution to the production (particularly his own stunning set, designed in collaboration with Joseph Stachura), if Wise could stumble upon some of Hillback’s strength and stoicism as Noah to add to her Lizzie, and if Hillback could in turn adopt some of the vulnerability Wise brings to the role of his sister, this mounting of The Rainmaker would be just about flawless.

The Rainmaker plays through July 8 at the Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr., Los Angeles CA 90039; for tickets, call 323.667.0955.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com