Regional Reviews: San Diego
Metaphors are nothing without comparison points, and The Old Globe's program quotes the original story by Somerset Maugham, using words such as "deluge from heaven," "fury," "scream," "powerless," "miserable," "hopeless," "hothouse," "seething," "humid," "sultry," "breathless," and "savage violence" in close proximity. A powerful thing, this rain, whatever it is.
Actually, in Maugham's version, rain is pretty much a constant. Set in the Pacific Islands, where rain falls most days of the year, a group of western passengers seek refuge in the home of a Scottish vagabond (Jeremy Davis) and his native wife (Marie-France Arcilla) while their ship is stuck in port under quarantine. Two couples, missionaries Alfred and Anna Davidson (Jared Zirilli and Elizabeth A. Davis) and itinerant doctor Alec MacPhail (Tally Sessions) and his wife Louisa (Betsy Morgan), crowd together with the hosts only to be joined by a single woman named Sadie Thompson (Eden Espinosa). Rain causes surfaces to become slippery, and the three couples find that this interloper makes each of their relationships become slippery as well.
You see, Sadie Thompson's arrival coincides with the native drumming that accompanies the rain becoming louder and more insistent. Sadie's wearing a red dress and has a couple of sailors (Rusty Ross and Mike Sears) trailing her. The sailors are shoed away, but they're replaced by the missionary, who can't resist an opportunity to "save a soul" via intensive one-on-one interaction in Thompson's room.
Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein makes his debut as a musical theatre director with this production. In act one, his work is impressive, taking advantage of the rich metaphoric landscape of the piece. Moving his cast through the hothouse of a set (by Mark Wendland), Mr. Edelstein evokes performances that complement the symbolism of the text.
In act two, however, something goes awry. The hothouse opens into the equivalent of a country estate, the urgency of the characters' situation dissipates, and the metaphoric landscape seems to have changed. Even if it hasn't, things are no longer in sharp focus.
Mr. LaChiusa's song score, on the other hand, is like fine wine. It has a rich, romantic flavor from which emerges exotic tastes and highlights. Each cast member is featured with music that is character-driven and suited well to the voices. The individual songs could be described as operatic if the music wasn't so clearly written for the theatre. There's little in the way of choral sound (and no ensemble), and the act one closer is a memorable septet rendered in the form of a prayer. Collaborator Sybille Pearson's book downplays the melodrama of the original, to mostly good effect.
Given that Sadie Thompson has been played in film versions of the story by the likes of Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth, Ms. Espinosa's version goes light on diva moves. Her big, theatrical voice is used well, though, and just enough to make her character stand out, but no more. Mr. Zirilli sports a tenor that rivals Ms. Espinosa in intensity. Each of the performers is well cast, and while the marvelous ensemble feel of act one is weaker in act two, the quality of the individual performances is not diminished.
With some attention to how act two continues the story of act one, especially in the staging, Rain could have a good and long life as a piece of musical theatre.
The Old Globe presents Rain, performing Tuesdays through Sundays through May 1, 2016, at The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets, starting at $36, are available by calling (619) 234-5623 or visiting www.theoldglobe.org.
Bok by Sybille Pearson, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, based on the short story "Rain" by Somerset Maugham. Directed by Barry Edelstein. Movement by Patrick McCollum. Music Director J. Oconer Navarro. Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin. Scenic Design by Mark Wendland. Costume Design by Katherine Roth. Lighting Design by Russell H. Champa. Sound Design by Ken Travis.