As images of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy linger in the recesses of the mind, Wright State University remounts its acclaimed 1996 production of “1913: The Great Dayton Flood” with compelling performances, soul-stirring music and outstanding atmospherics.
Inspired by Allan W. Eckert’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel “A Time of Terror: The Great Dayton Flood” and adapted by W. Stuart McDowell and Timothy J. Nevits, “1913” skillfully and seamlessly chronicles the catastrophic storm which changed the Miami Valley forever in March of that year. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the defining account, which affected a population of 116,000 and killed over 350, McDowell and Nevits interviewed numerous survivors whose captivating stories of heroism, resilience and tragedy terrifically propel the emotional potency within the insightful, moving play, which migrates all the way to the White House and particularly offers an eye-opening, unified portrait of Dayton’s diversity and spirituality at the time. The sheer connection to familiar individuals (John H. Patterson of the National Cash Register Company) and landmarks (the Rike’s building, the Victoria Theatre) are added benefits inherent to the episodic framework, heightened by Michael and Sandy Bashaw’s evocative new music and the colorful, commanding recorded narration of Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Dayton native Martin Sheen.
Returning to direct and aided by the cinematic appeal of Danielle Ferguson’s splendid lighting and projection design as well as scenic designer Pam Knauert-Lavarnway’s efficiently shifting platforms, McDowell provides sleek, sweeping staging for over 20 actors portraying over 150 characters. The excellently authoritative Sean Jones shines as the concerned Patterson, who kept NCR at the forefront of relief efforts and helped implement the Miami Conservancy District. Lawrence Dunford, genuine and humorous, absolutely charms as Negro League pitcher W.G. Sloan, a disinclined churchgoer who saved more than 300 people in his rowboat. Caroline Gruber relishes her saucy role as Pearl Street madame Lib Hedges. Cyndii Johnson brings Act 1 to a dynamic close as the staunchly determined Mrs. Stanton, who breaks through the roof of her house alongside her daughter (Donnella Barbour) to escape the rising waters. Tyrell Reggins as Rev. Primus Alston, Jim Miller as George McClintock, Samuel Blackburn and President Woodrow Wilson, Kelsey Pohl as Minnie Althoff, William Mendelson as Ray Stansbury, Ben Tracy as Charles Hopkins, Tyler Simms as Edward Hanley, and Samantha Kerger as Mildred Young are also notable among the endearing cast, tackling multiple roles with interchangeable ease and attractively costumed in period attire by Mary Beth McLaughlin. In addition, Nikki Wetter’s wonderfully choreographed depiction of the fateful weather pattern is vigorously executed at the outset.
As Dayton prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the flood, “1913” remains a crowning achievement not to be missed.
“1913: The Great Dayton Flood” continues through Feb. 10 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (view performance calendar here). Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors. For more information, call the WSU box office at (937) 775-2500.