• U.S.

Theater: Wet Weather: His vehicle leaks, but Woody Harrelson shines

2 minute read
Richard Zoglin

In a foreword to the published script of The Rainmaker, playwright N. Richard Nash advises, “It must never be forgotten that it is a romance, never for an instant by the director, the actors, the scenic designer or the least-sung usher in the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.” I can’t vouch for the ushers at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City, who are no less surly than usual, but mostly this Broadway revival gets into the right spirit. The set, a swath of brown prairie dominated by an expanse of blue sky, seems ready at any moment to disgorge the cast of Oklahoma!, and the story of a smooth-talking drifter named Starbuck who comes to a drought-plagued Western community and promises to bring rain is full of corn-fed blather about the importance of dreams. “You don’t believe in nothin’–not even yourself,” Starbuck tells Lizzie, the plain farm woman whose brothers and father are desperately trying to marry her off. By the end of the play she’ll have not one but two men pursuing her–and the stage will be drenched with water. Yep, a romance.

Though well mounted by director Scott Ellis, this 1954 play hasn’t held up as well as the superficially similar work of William Inge, in which the poetry seems to emerge more naturally out of the front-porch realism. But it does provide a platform for an impressive Broadway debut by film and TV star Woody Harrelson. Instead of the larger-than-life hamminess that Burt Lancaster brought to the role on film, Harrelson has a bantamweight’s charm and easy physicality (at one point he does a handstand onstage). You can almost, but not quite, believe he’d fall for Lizzie, delicately played by Jayne Atkinson. Just as you can almost, but not quite, believe this well-made but sentimental play was worth reviving.

–By Richard Zoglin

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com