Commissioned by the Goodman, the play uses eight actors to conjure the tensions of the true story of the 1889 tragedy in Johnstown, PA. Opening is March 22.
According to Goodman notes, "Inspired by the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, A True History of the Johnstown Flood introduces us to The Baxter Theatre Troupe — comprised of siblings James (played by Stephen Louis Grush), Richard (Cliff Chamberlain) and Fanny (Heather Wood) — who have been summoned to perform at an exclusive resort next to a beautiful man-made lake in the Pennsylvania mountains. Although the troupe's repertoire consists of the romantic trifles typical of the era, James envisions a different kind of play, one that exposes the true struggles of common people. When a violent rainstorm compromises the lake's shoddily constructed dam, the resulting disaster lays bare the tragic inequities of the rigid class system-and paves the way for a seismic change in both theatre and society.
Performances play to April 18 in the Goodman's Albert Theatre.
Gilman and Falls enlisted eight actors to make this story come to life, including Chamberlain, just off his Broadway debut in Superior Donuts. Joining Chamberlain are Chicago favorites Janet Ulrich Brooks (Golda Meir in Golda's Balcony at TimeLine), Sarah Charipar (Broadway's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Grush (Topdog/Underdog with American Theatre Company and Congo Square), Cedric Mays (Gem of the Ocean at the Guthrie), Randall Newsome (Broadway's Inherit the Wind and A Touch of the Poet; The Seafarer at Steppenwolf), Wood and Lucas Hall (Othello at Theatre For a New Audience).
A True History of the Johnstown Flood marks the fifth collaboration between award-winning Chicago playwright Gilman and Tony Award-winning director Falls. He first encountered Gilman in the late 1990s when he read one of her earlier pieces, The Glory of Living (a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist). Soon after, Falls commissioned Gilman to write a new play for the Goodman; she responded with the provocative, hard-hitting Spinning Into Butter (1999, now a feature film starring Sarah Jessica Parker). The show's run was extended three times and led to Gilman's next Goodman commission, Boy Gets Girl (2000), which transferred to New York's Manhattan Theatre Club and was recently named by Time magazine as one of the "Best Theatre Productions of the Decade." Falls and Gilman later teamed up for both Blue Surge (2001) and Dollhouse (2005), Gilman's modern interpretation of Ibsen's A Doll's House. Most recently Gilman's The Crowd You're In With (2009) made its Chicago debut at Goodman Theatre. For more information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org.