Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Mama's Boy
Or would you rather... have next to nothing, but put on a show that speaks to the life-and-death interests of the community, with lots of talented performances by and for your neighbors?
If you can put aside your desperate need for glamor and glitz for two-and-a-half hours, and answered "yes" to that second one, the return of The Flood at the Capitol Theatre in Waterloo, Illinois, awaits. It may be the most literal instance of "community theater" I have ever witnessed, in the civic-minded sense of the word. There are flaws, and micron-thin characterizations in some cases, and a nearly non-existent budget for sets. And it all may be 30 minutes too long. But there are also plenty of surprising high points, as the fictional town of Meyerville struggles to keep its head above water during the great flood of 1993.
The Flood was written by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel when the two were Princeton University students in 1995, based on the true story of nearby Valmeyer, taken from the oral histories of survivors. Since then, it's been workshopped in Georgia and New York City, culminating in a production by this same MASC Theater group in 2007. Amber Dillard, who appeared in that version eleven years ago, directs the sprawling revival nowher first directorial effortand she generally keeps the scenes (and the large cast) rolling along.
Veteran performer Jeff Clinebell does very well as the stoic, Bible-quoting father of two teenaged daughters, Alice (smoothly professional Maggie Dillard) and special-needs Rosemary (Hannah Sochowski, in a nicely detailed performance). We meet Rosemary first, engaged in a silent, symbolic dance with the Mississippi River, which is embodied by Brunhild-ish Christine Miller: a mystical presence in a flowing gown, who will later turn ominous. But their opening scene is lovely, suggesting we will bear witness to an archetypal ritual, handed down from one generation to the next (and being "archetypal" helps a lot to explain the occasional stilted performance to follow). Rosemary's beautiful mirror-dance with "The River" changes, but is echoed later in the show, even as rains swell the awesome Mississippi, and sandbags are hastily deployed.
The lighting (by Greg and Paul Hoeffken) is occasionally outstanding, considering the extreme limitations on hand. And the singing is generally very good, with composing that is above average, in the realm of musical theater (Mr. Clinebell gets some complex minor-key melodies, which he dispatches with ease). But beyond the light dancing of Ms. Sochowski and Ms. Miller, there is no choreography, leaving the question of movement to a relatively non-theatrical cast, and a novice director. As a result, many scenes are static. But it's perhaps more surprising that there are this many good singers and actors to be had at all. And thanks to music director Marcia Braswell, the large chorus numbers sound remarkably nice.
There are four or five good laughs in the book, and a long list of fine solo numbersthough, predictably, there is the "I Have a Dream" number ("Highway Miles," sung by the already accomplished teenager Mason Babcock), as well as the "We Should Be Together" song, sung by the equally fine Tyler Morgan, to the pensive girl he loves (the solidly dramatic Reagan Posey). And both of those men sing very well together in "My Father's Song" late in the show. So, in spite of the expectable challenges, and cookie-cutter song ideas of the youthful composers, there is also an authentic beauty that arises from the shared experience of small town life, which suffuses this particular production from within and without.
The Flood often seems as stubbornly immovable as the townspeople it portrays. But it's a show with more inherent nobility than the usual professional touring show that rushes through St. Louis, or what we see in big musical revivals in wealthier theaters here, every year.
The Flood, through September 30, 2018, at the Capitol Theatre, Waterloo IL. For more information visit www.masctheatre.org.