Of all the scoundrels in American literature, the huckster Starbuck in The Rainmaker deserves a special place: He’s a charmer in love with his own line, promising the impossible but also wanting to believe he can make it happen. He’ll take your money, sure, but part of him even believes he’s doing right by you.
The action takes place in a small town during the Great Depression. There’s a drought going on, in more than one sense: The town is parched, and so is the heart of our heroine, Lizzie, unmarried and with such limited prospects that spinsterhood seems inevitable. She is, to put it mildly, in a position to be susceptible to the charms of a sweet-talking stranger.
Yellow Tree Theatre kicks off its seventh season by making the case for the drive out to its Osseo venue, in part, by enlisting Craig Johnson to direct—an ace both in the captain’s chair and as an actor who brings a keen dramaturge’s eye and ear to finding emotional truths. Starbuck is played by Peter Christian Hansen (in a role tackled previously both by Burt Lancaster and Woody Harrelson, of all people) who acted with Johnson in this year’s revelatory Rocket to the Moon at New Century Theatre. Hansen has a knack for lending a knowing self-awareness to leading-man charisma—apt for Starbuck, a character who combines vanity and BS with a heart of gold.
Ultimately, though, this story is Lizzie’s; it’s a journey into discovering the line between optimism and delusion, and the hard-won currency of self-worth that enables us to look at life open-eyed while also believing that droughts do indeed come to an end.
The Rainmaker 9.12–10.12 yellowtreetheatre.com