Kelly Kabialis – A True History of the Johnstown Flood

June 17, 2010 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Flooded With Excitement by Kelly Kabialis
    Over the centuries the dramatic styles of acting have changed. However, worldwide the most recognized styles are melodramatic and subtle dramatic. If you were to attend what was advertised as a serious play, and within the first act you see the actors making over-exaggerated movements, and every line sounds like if they don’t over-act than the world will end you would most likely leave at intermission. Unless some invisible, vaguely defined force keeps you at the theater . Perhaps it’s a great set, a few cheap laughs, amazing characters, or maybe it’s all three, as in the case of the the Goodman Theatre’s current production “A True History of the Johnstown Flood”.

    The combination of director Rebecca Gilman and the Goodman’s artistic director turned stage director Robert Falls would seem to produce a play that would appeal to all audiences, but this is not entirely the case with this production. This show is made for those who are ready for intense action, a little bit of sex, disease, a touch of communism, and “period acting.” This means it is a style of acting that directly relates to the time period it is set in. Gilman has split the show into two main parts with  two smaller sub-sections. This structure lacks cohesion because of the pacing of the play. The sections comprise a story of factual history inside a story of fiction combined with an old fashioned play inside of a modern  play. If you have a short attention span, this might not be the play for you. Focusing is the key to understanding Gilman’s writing. If you allow yourself to be fully involved in the play, it will take you on a enjoyable roller coaster of tragedy and comedy. One thing to particularly look out for throughout the first act are the many scattered hints to the ultimate climax. It will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering when it will happen, a rare feeling in a theater production.

    At the start of the play we meet the first family of theatre; the Baxters that consists of two combative brothers Richard (Cliff Chamberlain) and James (Stephen Louis Grush) and their sister Fanny (Heather Wood). These actors take on much more than just a role, they have a slice of history to bring to life. This amazing cast makes this giant undertaking seem effortless. You will be amazed at how spot-on the casting of this show was. We learn that their father and mother died and Richard is now determined to live out his fathers dream of  always performing and using his hand-painted backdrops. This dysfunctional family soon crosses with the Lippincotts, an upper class family who decides to hire the Baxters for a night of entertainment. Little do the Lippincotts know, the Baxters consider a night of entertainment a six-act play. After seeing the production, Walter Lippincott (Lucas Hall) becomes smitten with the stage-stealer Fanny, and they start a relationship. But Walter is high up on the social ladder, and because being an actress is at the same social level as a prostitute, it makes Walter want to conceal the relationship. In order for Walter to have a acceptable excuse for his mother to allow him to spend any time around the Baxters, he must fake a business deal. Walter makes a deal with Richard who desperately accepts out of the fear for losing his failing troupe.  Once the flood comes and destroys the entire city of Johnstown, we discover that Walter had a secret motive the entire time to make love with Fanny and take the failing troupe and completely ignore Richard’s plans for their company. Throughout the entire show, you cannot decide which piece of the play you should be more intrigued by, the role of art in a time of tragedy or the role of the wealthy in a state of destruction.