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110 in the Shade Review

Heat & Passion

Address: 215 Jackson Street, Gateway Theatre
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: 415-255-8207

110 in the Shade—Heat and Passion on the Fourth of July

Keith Pinto (center) as Starbuck in 110 in the Shade.

Review by Judith M. Wilson

Photos by Ben Kranz Studio

Passions are burning, and tempers are boiling over in 110 in the Shade. It’s classic 1950s fare, with a con man, a woman looking for love and an underlying lesson to give a moral to the story. And it all ends well, reflecting a different time that was, perhaps, simpler and more hopeful. It’s also the kind of show 42nd Moon does well, with accomplished singers, dancers and actors making the most of a piece we don’t see much anymore and making it shine.

Elliot Hanson as Jimmy, James Schott as Noah, Andrea Dennison-Laufer as Lizzie and Jesse Caldwell as H.C. Curry.

The temperature in the title refers to a scorching, rain-parched summer in America’s Dust Bowl on the Fourth of July 1936. Relief seems unlikely, but then an attractive stranger, Bill Starbuck, arrives in town, claiming that he has the ability to make it rain. Meanwhile, ranch owner H.C. Curry awaits the return of his daughter Lizzie, who has been away visiting friends with the hopes of finding a husband, but without success. Lizzie’ brothers hatch a plan to fix her up with the local lawman, Sheriff File, at the town’s annual picnic, but things don’t work out the way they expect. Instead, arguments take place, and hard truths come out.

Kyra Lynn Kozlenko as Snookie and Elliot Hanson as Jimmy.

Andrea Dennison-Laufer plays Lizzie as an intelligent woman with a keen wit, who speaks her mind even when she doesn’t mean to. As such, she doesn’t meet the societal expectations of the day, when women were expected to be deferential to men and play down their abilities. Thus, she challenges Starbuck and calls him a fraud, while he accurately sizes her up as well. Keith Pinto is Starbuck, and he has a strong stage presence to match that of Dennison-Laufer, as he plays a man with the veneer of confidence, who sets out to fool a town. Jesse Caldwell is H.C. Curry, who takes a pragmatic though kind approach to Lizzie’s situation, while Elliot Hanson and James Schott fill the roles of his two sons, Jimmy and Noah, respectively.  Hanson typifies the exuberance of youth, while Schott plays a rash young man who is too quick to rush to judgement. Kyra Lynn Kozlenko turns in an astute performance as Snookie Updegraff, Jimmy’s love interest, in a somewhat stereotypical role that provides a clear contrast to Lizzie. Brian Watson’s File is an outwardly upright man, but one with a secret.

The show doesn’t contain any big blockbuster tunes, but they’re catchy and fill out the story nicely, underscoring the plot in sometimes unexpected ways. Pinto’s Melisande, for example, prods Lizzie to think about who she really is and what she wants to be. Everything Beautiful Happens at Night shows the whole town caught up in the excitement of a summer holiday, and Polka Poker is a fun number that creates energy.

110 in the Shade is based on N. Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker, which opened on Broadway in 1954 and was revamped to make it shorter and more concise and given a new title for another run on Broadway that began in 1963. Lyrics are by American librettist Tom Jones and music is by Harvey Schmidt. It was also made into a movie called The Rainmaker in 1956 and starred Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster.

Josh Marx directs 42nd Street Moon’s production, and it moves along at a lively pace, while lingering on the more emotional scenes to give them impact. Choreography is by Scottie Woodard, and Dave Dobrusky is musical director.

Photo: Andrea Dennison-Laufer as Lizzie and Brian Watson as Sheriff File.

110 in the Shade is a step back in time that reveals the folly of trying to mold women into society’s perception of what they should be rather than who they are and shows that what we need to look beyond superficial appearances to find real substance. Add song and dance, and it’s a satisfying performance all round.

110 in the Shade runs through Sunday, May 12. The shows runs two hours and 30 minutes and includes a 15-minute intermission. For more information, go to www.42ndstmoon.org.