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Actors fetchingly embrace a South Seas morality play

(ran PW, PS edition of Pasco Times)

Author W. Somerset Maugham once described himself as a "resigned atheist," skeptical about the innate goodness of mankind and cynical about human nature.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his short story, Miss Thompson, the tale of San Francisco prostitute Sadie Thompson's struggle with a zealot missionary, the basis of the drama Rain, playing weekends through Feb. 1 at Richey Suncoast Theatre.

In it, Sadie is temporarily quarantined on a South Pacific island with the Rev. Alfred Davidson, the easy-going store/hotel proprietor Tom Horn, the pragmatic physician Dr. MacPhail, their wives, the natives and the sailors from a nearby naval base.

Sadie hopes to elude a three-year prison sentence back in San Francisco by catching a boat to Australia, but the Rev. Davidson is determined that she return to the States to face her punishment, whether she's guilty of a crime or not, to atone for her sins.

Sadie goads him, flaunting her sexual escapades with the local boys as the angry and agitated Davidson stalks around just outside her bedroom door. She tempers her behavior only when she realizes that Davidson has the power to send her back to home and prison. She seems to convert under Davidson's prodding, but is it sincere or a conversion of convenience? Perhaps Davidson has manipulated her by sheer force of personality into a temporary euphoria where she will follow his directions, no matter what.

The answers play out to the incessant drumming of a South Seas rain (with annoying breaks in the sound on Friday night) that seems to close in on the refugees, even as the devastating inevitable draws nearer.

Director Arthur R. Day's talented cast members give Rain a different slant.

Hollywood's versions of Sadie Thompson (there were three) are sultry and sexy; Ginger King's Sadie is brittle and flippant. This Sadie doesn't seem like a true trollop; her gaiety seems forced and unnatural, making her look vulnerable and her apparent religious conversion more creepily real. It's a fresh way to look at one of drama's most interesting characters and brings a new dimension to the story of Sadie's conflict with Davidson.

John Masterson's Davidson starts out rather benign, but as Sadie provokes him, the actor skillfully reveals the minister's chilling interpretation of Christianity through alternating fury and soft coaxing. Horn, played with lackadaisical good humor and broad gestures by Willem Nichols, views Sadie and Davidson with a wary eye. Horn knows the power of missionaries in Samoa, and he figures there's no way Sadie can come up a winner. Sadie is almost rescued by a smitten sailor, Sgt. O'Hara, played with jittery energy by Drew Lundquist. She gets help from the philosophical Dr. MacPhail (Scott Van Scoyk), who doesn't seem to have quite enough gumption to do genuine battle for her sake.

Linda Hamrell is perfectly cast as Davidson's tight-lipped and judgmental helpmeet who knows the depths of her husband's determination; their own strange relationship is proof of that. Horn's Samoan wife Ameena (Pat Robinson) sees things as they are, and they aren't good.

Gloria J. Searle's Mrs. MacPhail is flighty and slightly fearful of Mrs. Davidson's disapproval. Mrs. MacPhail isn't as judgmental as the good reverend or his wife, but her unwillingness to take a stand brings as much harm.

Charlie Skelton's set is detailed and solid. Marie Skelton's painting of the set makes it look like the kind of run-down place Horn would run.

The problems with this production are mostly with the sound. Sadie's off-stage record-player and the on-again, off-again rain sometimes drown out crucial dialogue or lessen its impact. That said, Richey Suncoast's Rain is a bracing new take on an old story.

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