The Rainmaker, Quenching a Universal Thirst

From left: Ken Trammell, Matt Provenza, and Sean Cleary in The Rainmaker (Sheen Center)
A beautiful revival of the 1950s play reminds us that we all long for the miracle of hope and love.

‘I was sorry to see the Mooch and Spicer killed off so quickly, but I really think the introduction of Rudy’s character is going to breathe new life into the show. Kudos to the producers for keeping things so fresh.”

The comment by a Facebook friend the other day seems to pretty well capture our national reality: So much of the country seems to be huddled around watching the ultimate reality television show in and around the White House (with regular visits to various Trump properties as the new Camp David up and down the East Coast). People watch in delight and horror, amusement and triumphalism, depression and disgust. Whatever the feelings stirred, watch they do, dreaming perhaps of how POTUS D.J.T. will next drive the media mad or of who will finally swoop in and turn the “You’re Fired” line on this continuous episode of The Apprentice. And even as we watch politics as an addictive drama, it seems we can live our lives in an anesthetized state, with so many spiritual and interpersonal and forward-moving muscles atrophying.

It’s for some of these reasons that The Rainmaker, produced by Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., and directed by Peter Dobbins, now playing at the Sheen Center on Bleeker Street in Manhattan, couldn’t be more timely. At one point one of the characters exclaims: “What we need is a flood . . . the end of the world. . . . Ta-da, good-bye,” in that beautiful way that the light hand of a well-done show can draw us into some of the deepest realities of our lives, prompting a smile that all at once seems to put things in better focus.

Life can seem a wee bit apocalyptically out of control. That feeling — both in our daily lives and politics — can overwhelm. It leads to some of the extreme polarization of our rhetoric, from social media to national campaigns. It keeps sensible and practical, never mind civil, conversations from flourishing. The obstacles to making some kind of sense again, and for welcoming vital elements as simple and fundamental as rain, can seem impossible, and numbness can come into play, especially if you’re struggling to have hope.

The weather in the farming town of The Rainmaker seems to be affected by the mood of the people. People are thirsting for rain. Drops from the sky have become the stuff of dreams, for as long as one can sleep in the misery. And it’s clear from the opening moments, of course, that their thirst is for so much more. In their desire, though, there is also a hopelessness that has set in, where perhaps weeping isn’t even possible. When the character of the Rainmaker comes through town, his larger-than-life presence draws them out of themselves to live more fully in their humanity.

At the same time of the Rainmaker’s opening, Cigna released a study showing that loneliness is an epidemic. A storm of headlines rained down: “Loneliness May Be a Greater Public Health Hazard Than Obesity,” “Americans Are a Lonely Lot, and Young People Bear the Heaviest Burden,” “The Universal Solitude of Americans: Loneliness on the Rise,”

“There are too many lonely people,” we hear at one point in The Rainmaker. And what we see is how none of the characters is truly alone, though there are human-made barriers and expectations that make them feel that way.

“Without giving anything away, every character in the play is searching for Something More,” Father Cameron, the producer of The Rainmaker with Blackfriars Repertory Theatre, reflects.

And they seem on the brink of giving up. We can all relate to that. But suddenly this tremendous, almost magical presence comes sweeping in . . . and hope becomes the order of the day. It rings true. The play reminds us that it’s possible to align our lives so that hope does not seem like illusion but instead the most reasonable way to face reality. It makes us come face to face with why we so often lose hope in the midst of our struggles. If one pays close attention to the hearts and the hurts of the characters, they will be drawn in; they will see themselves . . . and new possibilities for their problems. If one listens closely, the play has beautiful, enriching, encouraging things to say about faith, friendship, risk-taking, integrity, being true to self . . .

That insurmountable feeling of loneliness is both a lie and a participation in the miracle of living, one we share with one another and also with the ages.

In contrast to the distracting saga of Rudy and the porn star — or whichever storyline is trending this hour — The Rainmaker is art at its best, addressing our thirst in the safety and challenge of beauty, which shifts our burdens for a moment. The beauty helps us see that that insurmountable feeling of loneliness is both a lie and a participation in the miracle of living, one we share with one another and also with the ages and that makes for the muses who can create wondrous things and bring us to laugh and cry and love again.

The thirst for rain is a thirst to live freely, to live as God intends for us. Things don’t get more universal than that. Anything that pulls us away from its pursuit — including the necessary and the ideally noble call of politics — is a distraction.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.