The tension will be mounting in The Attic of The State Theatre starting April 27 when the Next Stage Theatre Company presents “Rain Dance.” Set in a small cantina in Los Alamos, New Mexico, on July 15th, 1945, Lanford Wilson’s play grapples with the fear, uncertainty and responsibility that encompasses the events of the following day, when the U.S. conducted the first test of the atomic bomb.
“We wanted to do something that we felt was profound and prescient and this is really an interesting take on a historical event,” said director Norrine Sims. “While this is a subtle play, it is capable of a giant reaction, and I think that we do a really great job of conveying the conflict that these four individuals felt at Los Alamos.”
First produced in Michigan in 2001, “Rain Dance” ended up being Wilson’s last completed play and made its Broadway debut in the spring of 2003 with James Van Der Beek in the role of young scientist Hank. In keeping with the Pulitzer Prize winning Wilson’s vision, Sims has gone to great lengths to ensure that her production remains as real as possible.
“The process and commitment to authenticity has always been important to me and my experience on ‘Rain Dance’ has only reinforced that idea,” Sims said. “We casted a very interesting and capable group of actors who have been sharing their ideas and input with everybody. The end product is so much richer for it.”
Given that “Rain Dance” will be performed in the smaller Attic venue at The State Theatre, it provides audiences with a sense of intimacy that shines a microscope on the consuming dread of the characters. This approach almost puts the audience at the table with them, leading to a uniquely authentic perspective.
“The audience gets to feel like they are a part of the conversations, witnessing everything up-close and personal,” said actor Duane Minard, who is portraying Tony, a Native American soldier. “They get to see the slightest display of emotion on each character’s face and body. For the actors, it helps create the atmosphere of nervous energy that permeates this day in history for these four characters.”
“The relationships and small moments between characters matter a lot in this show, so the audience really benefits from being right there in the space with us, sometimes only a few feet away,” added actor Mike Waldhier, who plays Hank. “It’s much more like participating in the events, rather than observing from afar.”
While the events unfolding in “Rain Dance” took place more than 70 years ago, the current cultural and political climate draws strong parallels to to that time. These similarities haven’t been lost on the cast and crew and add an even greater sense of urgency to Wilson’s script.
“I think you’re seeing a lot of what goes on in ‘Rain Dance’ is currently being played out in American society right now,” Minard said. “The struggles that the characters wrestle with are about the development, the use and the aftermath of using a nuclear bomb, as well as the politics involved in its use. The moral issues have also been debated about the building, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons since they came into existence. ‘Rain Dance’ touches on all of this, from the viewpoint of four different people, with four different backgrounds. I believe this play is very relevant in today’s uncertain times.”
“One of the themes in the show is the division, even among people working on the Trinity project, on whether or not it should be used, and the moral implications of what was about to happen,” Waldhier said. “I think these divisions have certain parallels with the climate today.”
Even though “Rain Dance” is a serious undertaking and makes its audience think, it also provides a sense of escapism. Cast members said they’re delighted to be sharing their work with the community.
“This play has so much to say about what happened then and what is currently happening now,” Minard said. “The audience will be entertained and they will see and feel the emotional roller coaster the characters take them on. To come all the way from Southern California and perform in this production in State College has truly been an honor.”
“I think audiences will find ‘Rain Dance’ to be a thought-provoking piece of theater that will entertain and educate on a period of history that most people know only a little bit about,” Waldhier said. “I hope that everyone finds a number of small moments that they will remember and think about long after the show is over.”
IF YOU GO
▪ What: Next Stage Theatre Company’s “Rain Dance”
▪ When: 8 p.m. April 27-29 and May 4-6 and 3 p.m. April 30 and May 7
▪ Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
▪ Info: www.thestatetheatre.org