An interview with THE RAINMAKER's director, Ron Reed.
Tell me about your first encounter with The Rainmaker.
I was in grade 11 in high school and Theatre Calgary put the play on. I was completely enamored. Then my high school drama teacher had us each do a monologue, and I did one from that play.
My grade 12 year we did The Rainmaker, and it was one of those most memorable high school experiences that sticks with you. I wanted to play Starbuck, but of course even at that age I was playing old people, so I was HC.
Since then I’ve taught acting a lot and in most of my classes we’ve used one scene in the play. I love that play.
As a play you have loved for so long, why didn’t you produce it earlier?
You know, a few reasons. It’s got seven actors, and we used to really be constricted from doing large-cast shows like that. It’s still tricky, but once a season or so we can kind of make it work. And this season the other two shows have two and three actors, so we can make it work.
Generally, Pacific Theatre tends to gravitate towards really substantial, thought provoking, potentially controversial pieces that explore the depths of spirituality and ethical dilemmas. This play is not that. It’s a lovely play, and we don’t do so much straight up lovely, well made, classic plays. That’s another reason it’s taken so long.
The reason why I’m doing it now starts with last year’s apprentices. Ryan Scramstad did a Starbuck monologue for his audition and it was really strong. With that in my head, the next to audition was Pippa Johnstone, and I realized she would be the perfect Lizzie. So I started scheming about doing it with Pippa as Lizzie, and then as I got to know the other two apprentices I realized they would be perfect as Lizzie’s two brothers. Then the cast just began to emerge and they were so perfect – to begin the season with the apprentices who had just completed was perfect.
What are the challenges of this play?
Challenge one was to get a cast that really was right. Turned out not to be that big of a challenge because we have some pretty great people around. There were a couple of roles I read a lot of people for, but my problem there was that there were a lot of people who could do the role. But there you just start judging by how different people connect with each other and what happens and we got magic.
It’s a straightforward, beautiful play, and I think the actors can be truthful and talk to each other and we’ll just try to create the situation where their job is to live in the world of the play and be the human beings that they are in that story.
Are you doing anything different with this staging?
We’re busting out of the scenic realism the play would usually have. We’re evoking something more poetic that way. We’ve got John Webber designing so I think we’re in good hands.
There is a straight-forwardness about the characters and the story and most people just make it in a ranch house. Ranch houses are an evocative setting and that’s fine, but I come from the prairies and there’s such a sense of the sky and the earth. Especially when you’re on a farm. There’s the farmhouse, and maybe a cluster of farm buildings, and then there’s this mass of space. So in our little room I wanted to evoke that.
We’ve really stepped away from a naturalistic thing, and we really took our cue from the playwright. In 1954 he wrote in the introduction and said that everybody, right down to the ushers, needs to know that this is a Romance. A capital “R” Romance – Romantic. And there’s a poetry there. So we’ll take that further than they would have in 1954, not in the acting, but the setting.
We’ve really stripped the realistic elements down to the bare essentials. We even gave up things we wanted to have on stage but we wanted it as open as can be. If I could stage the play in the middle of a ranch out in the field and just put the furniture pieces there and the audience could stand around and watch, I would. But not even see each other. There’s no walls or anything. That’s my ideal. So we’re trying to get as close to that as we can in our 20x20 theatre.
The values of the play could be called “old fashioned”, how do you respond to that?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play that was about me and my values and my relationships. That’s not what I go to the theatre for. I get enough of me at home. I go to see what was life like then, what’s life like for him, what’s life like in that country.
This takes us to a place that I get, that I understand. Lizzie feels broken up for being unmarried at 30. Well, people still feel that way. I know plenty of them. Or maybe it’s not marriage but worrying nobody’s ever going to find you attractive – I’ve felt that way. And that’s Lizzie’s plight. I think it’s very human. The feelings of “I failed at this, there’s nobody for me.” And that’s fine if you don’t want anybody, but if you do, that’s got to hurt.
And I now identify with the dad. Somebody said “you’re only as happy as your least happy child at any moment”, and there is HC and his daughter is broken hearted.
Is there something that you’re most looking forward to about this now?
I’m most looking forward to the play and the actors. I’m also actually using the same source of music that we used in my high school production, which is the music of Aaron Copeland. Because it’s pure Americana and it’s beautiful and romantic and soaring. I’ve got some solo piano stuff I’d never heard before.
It was the right choice in 1974 in Lord Beaverbrook High School in Calgary and it’s the right choice in 2014 at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver.