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THEATER REVIEW: "Rain"

Photo credit:
Old Globe Theatre

The evocative morning lighting on Mark Wendland’s impressive, almost imposing tri-level hotel set for Sybille Pearson and Michael John LaChiusa’s world premiere musical “Rain” recalls other languid plays about people with identity, substance and sexual abuse problems. Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” comes to mind.

In fact, the hulking set at The Old Globe – which can be turned completely or divided into sections and turned individually – is the real star of this preachy, predictable saga about religious hypocrisy and sexual repression.

Based on a W. Somerset Maugham short story, “Rain” is set in 1924 in Pago Pago, Western Samoa, where a missionary couple and a doctor and his wife are stranded for a few days by medical quarantine. Here they will be sheltered by Scottish hotelier Jo (Jeremy Davis) and his sweet native wife Noi Noi (Marie-France Arcilla).

Last to arrive is on-the-lam hooker Sadie (Eden Espinosa), on her way to a new start in Melbourne (she’s been tossed out of Hawaii). Sadie brings the rain in more than the meteorological sense, and when hunky but rigid minister Alfred Davidson (Jared Zirilli) decides to save her soul (whether she wants it or not), Davidson’s wife Anna (Elizabeth A. Davis) is more than a little discomfited: she comes to suspect her husband of a bit more than Bible reading with Sadie.

The other pair, Dr. Alec MacPhail (Tally Sessions) and his wife Louisa (Betsy Morgan), represent the non-judgmental voices of reason, though they have their own problems. They have come to the South Pacific to give Alec a chance to heal from a war wound, but he has deeper problems which may affect the marriage.

Though the titular and constant tropical rain is an annoyance, it’s the metaphoric psychological downpours that bring the real problems. 

“Rain” marks Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein’s first foray into helming a musical. This one looks amazing, but leaves a bit to be desired dramatically. Maugham’s tendency toward stereotype doesn’t give these fine actors much room to breathe, let alone stretch. 

Still, LaChiusa has penned a few good songs, among them MacPhail’s plaintive “The Supposed Me,” a muse about life choices (“Supposing the supposed me is not what I’m supposed to be?”), which is paired with “The Noise,” in which he meditates on the horror of warfare.

In the charming and suggestive “The English Lesson,” Noi Noi offers Louisa advice on how to how to be playful with MacPhail, something that has gone by the wayside since his days in the war.

J. Oconer Navarro’s nine-member orchestra acquits itself well from the pit, and the cast is fine. Zirilli, whose lovely tenor voice makes him listenable even though Davidson’s actions can be revolting, is a standout, as is Espinosa’s earthy Sadie, who amuses with her “Sunshine” song (she finds hers in a bottle) and her indomitable spirit.

Sessions and Morgan are convincing as the damaged MacPhail and his neglected wife, and Rusty Ross and Mike Sears impress in smaller roles.

“Rain” has been filmed three times (with Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth as Sadie) and spawned at least one other musical, but for my money the predictable story does not seem to have withstood the century shift well. The song title “Only The Rain Stays The Same” also applies to social mores.

The Details

“Rain” plays through May 1, 2016 at The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Showtimes: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.orgT