'Separation Rapid' a harrowing journey

As I sit down to write this review, I’m desperately reaching for a metaphor I have in my head connecting my journey down the under-construction Rt. 12 to Greene last night and the trip taken by a fateful couple down the Colorado River in ‘Separation Rapid,’ but it’s just not coming to me.

Probably because Rt. 12, torn up, bumpy and off-course as it is down near Greene these days, doesn’t even come close to the perilous, treacherous and harrowing journey undertaken by newlyweds Glenn and Bessie Hyde in ‘Separation Rapid,’ no matter how far you can stretch a metaphor.

Maybe I tried because seeing the play last night at the Chenango River Theatre made me want to feel like an intrepid adventurer, when in reality the only thing I can steer clearly is a keyboard!

Based on the true story, “Separation Rapid” tells the tale of the bold and daring Hydes, who set out in 1928 on what they hope will be a record-breaking trip down the rapids of the Colorado as it winds through the Grand Canyon. The just-married couple aren’t merely thrill-seekers though ... they’re hell-bent on being famous, traveling the Vaudeville circuit, meeting presidents and queens, Earhart and Lindberg style. While a few men have survived the dangerous currents, Bessie would be the first woman to do so.



Glenn’s a simple bean farmer from Iowa, with dreams of fame and fortune. Bessie’s an artist, a whimsical soul with a zest for life. Both, however, are running from dark pasts, secrets which threaten to catch up with them as fast as the swirling waters of the Colorado. Theirs is an engaging love story, tempered always with danger from Mother Nature herself.

Based on a true story, this fictionalized account is written by nationally known writer and playwright Susan Arnout Smith, and is making its world premier right here in Chenango County. Smith was given access to the only existing copy of Bessie’s original diary, still stored at the Huntington Library in California. She’s woven together the historic details of the Hydes’ trip with elements of adventure, comedy, spirituality and mystery – the ultimate fate of the Hydes remains unknown to this day.

It struck me that much of “Separation Rapid” plays like “found footage,” that grainy, realistic style popularized by “The Blair Witch Project” and more recently, “Paranormal Activity.” The play is probably the most intimate I’ve seen on the Greene stage – in fact the theater seems to grow smaller and smaller with each passing rapid. As the hapless couple, Kate Hamill and Dan Sanders-Joyce are riveting – drawing you into their ever darkening world, the sense of foreboding palpable.

I know I say this a lot, but this is a one-of-a-kind show you will not want to miss. Take a chance on adventure; you won’t regret it.

Directed by Bill Lelbach, who also designed the truly unbelievable set (seriously, the rapids in Greene? This show will take you there), the talented cast also includes Domenica Galati, Susan Slotoroff, Ted Nappi, David Wirth, Bobby Daglio and Jared Gates.

“Separation Rapid” opened at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene last weekend, and runs through Aug. 5. Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30, plus Sunday matinees at 2. The theater is located at 991 State Highway 12, just south of Greene. For ticket information, visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunjeff.

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