The Localization of Mad River Rising

Mad River Rising
Mad River Rising

Photo by Tony Arrasmith / Arrasmith & Associates. Via Playhouse in the Park

“We cuss differently,” says Vermont native and playwright Dana Yeaton. So he had to learn to swear like a Buckeye.

Yeaton was in town in September to kick off rehearsals of his play Mad River Rising at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Yeaton’s drama premiered at Vermont Stage Company in 1997, and now-PIP artistic director Blake Robison directed it there. At the center of the script is an old man’s memory of the flood that devastated his family and their farm. Yeaton’s original story was set in Vermont and hearkened back to the Great Flood of 1927—the worst disaster the Green Mountain State has ever seen.

Last year, when Robison approached Yeaton about creating a version of the play set in rural Ohio and tied to the memories of the 1937 flood here, Yeaton knew that he’d have to give his New-England-centric work a Midwest sensibility. And in the early days of rehearsal he was still taking out a few lingering regional references and easing in some local lingo. “That was a little daunting,” he told me when we spoke. “I don’t have the ear for this area, but we’re working with the cast to see [how it sounds].” His specific challenge the afternoon that we spoke: finding the Ohio Valley equivalent of the word “intervale.” That’s what a Vermont farmer calls the rich, flood-prone land in a river valley. Presumably by the end of the day someone had told him to substitute the expression “bottom land.”

But beyond semantics, he found plenty of common ground when he began his local research. He said he discovered that the place of the 1937 flood in southern Ohioans’ psyche is similar to the way Vermonters remember their 1927 flood: even people who weren’t alive when those crises hit feel connected to them through family memories and local lore. “The DNA feels the same.”

Mad River Rising opens in preview Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 14. If you want to warm up to the tale, you might check out the animated film created by students at Middlebury College, where Yeaton teaches. It’s adapted from a portion of Yeaton’s script—“The prequel that almost tells the whole story,” he explained. “For me, it’s the part that aches.”

Mad River Rising from daniel houghton on Vimeo.

Mad River Rising, Oct 17–Nov 14, Playhouse in the Park,

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