by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the middle of an eventually inspiring play that's too tidy about expressing and resolving its themes -- and in the midst of an uneven cast -- it's the performance of Kelly Eviston Quinnett in The Rainmaker (at Interplayers through Sept. 29) that leaves an indelible impression.

As Lizzie, the potential spinster caged in a masculine world and trapped by her own self-doubts, Quinnett projects so much raw emotion that playgoers are practically compelled to root for her dreams to come true. Wearing a dowdy apron over a shapeless housedress, her hair tightly wound in a bun and with her character's self-esteem even more constricted, Quinnett appears without makeup and without pretension, portraying a woman who's afraid of loneliness and doesn't know how to avoid it.

Lowering Lizzie's unconfident head down toward her shoulders, Quinnett's forever neatening her dress and hair in fluttery little gestures of needless self-improvement. "I'm so tired of being me," she complains. Yet in a couple of comedic sequences, Quinnett demonstrates her range by having Lizzie mimic the kind of women who sashay their hips "like a cocker spaniel" just to attract the nearest available man.

In the crucial scene near the end of the play when the title character gets Lizzie to see herself in a new light, Quinnett is all half-turns from the waist up, unsure whether to embrace or spurn the sweet-talking con man Starbuck. With her eyes averted and then darting toward his face, with her arms unsure whether to plead for affection or remain crossed in self-defense, she shows us not just a simple movement from self-distrust to self-acceptance, but instead a wavering, grudging, gradual movement toward the Rainmaker's ideal.

Quinnett saves the most heartbreaking moment for the speech when she's trying to explain to Starbuck that her dreams are small ones, achievable ones -- not the moon and the stars, but just a husband who needs her. "Kids," she says -- she'd like to hear the sound of her kids being rambunctious in her back yard. In a performance with dozens of finely observed moments, this is one of the finest.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n his first appearance as Starbuck -- the fast-talking con man who promises rain for drought-parched ranches in exchange for $100 -- Jonathan Rau lacks outrageousness. For someone who instantly needs to swindle an entire family, his storytelling feels too restrained.

But contrast Rau's storytelling manner later in the play, when he's addressing an audience of one. In the beautifully written scene when Starbuck tenderly gets Lizzie to see herself in a different light, Rau spins his yarn while really fixated on fairy-tale beauty. Unlike the world's naysayers, Starbuck -- for all his faults -- sees how much better life could be. When he focuses on an ideal and relates it to an audience of one, Rau can weave inspiring dreams.

The central couple receives mostly good support. As Lizzie's wild younger brother, Adam Pittman adds gee-whiz energy to every scene he's in. As the older brother -- a kind of puritanical accountant -- Jon Lewis does a lot of frowning and forbidding without revealing any other facets of his character.

Bill Rhodes, however, finds a twinkle in the eye of the wise sheriff, turning him into the play's minor reflection of its other older-generation truth-teller (and Lizzie's father), H.C. Curry. And in one of his best local performances, Maynard Villers portrays the father as a bemused, tolerant old soul who can laugh at himself even as he takes significant risks.

Todd Jasmin plays a taciturn deputy named File who's a kind of late-breaking rival to Starbuck for Lizzie's attention; he also directs. After Nash's script, in its neat and accessible way, signals that both Lizzie and File are lonely souls in need of some affection, Jasmin overlaps the two characters briefly in separate pools of light, with both of them sublimating their desires in make-work tasks. It's a nice directorial touch.

William Rosevear's set design gets maximum use out of Interplayers' extreme thrust stage and extends the prairie exterior onto the ranch house's interior walls, nicely underscoring the drama's dream-big-but-keep-it-real theme.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & fter half a century, Nash's play still speaks to the little self-critical voice inside all our heads: Don't let your dreams die, but temper your dreaminess with practical considerations. Nash assembled a formulaic but accessible entertainment that, like the advice it gives to dreamers, remains accessible. It isn't heavy, but it isn't obvious either.

It's a lesser, romantic-comedy version of The Glass Menagerie in which the Laura Wingfield character not only succeeds with her Gentleman Caller but actually receives more than one.

Interplayers may be presenting an over-long version with mixed results in the acting, but even a too-neat presentation of themes is mostly salvaged by Kelly Quinnett's remarkable performance.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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