BWW Review: MEN ON BOATS at Mary Moody Northen is Must-See Theatre
MEN ON BOATS is now playing at Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University. Written by Horton Foote Prize winner, Jaclyn Backhaus, the play originally premiered off-broadway in 2016. It tells a somewhat true version of the 1869 expedition through the Colorado River and Grand Canyon led by John Wesley Powell.
Powell (Tyler Layton), along with a ragtag group of volunteers, sets off to chart a new course down the Colorado. The band of men, played by a diverse group of female and non-binary artists encounters brushes with danger at every turn. Powell, filled with the promise of discovery, sets off unabashedly while party member, William Dunn (Lexie Garrett), fears such a course will ultimately end in disaster. Together, Powell, Dunn, and the rest of the group (Kt Shorb, Katie McLoughlin, Sierra Boudoin, Kaila Brinckmann, Nicole Davis, Mykkaela Garcia, Meg Court, and Sabrina Sanchez) encounter and overcome obstacles, but what is driving the explorers is the thrill of adventure and leaving their lasting mark on the untamed wilderness.
As an ensemble, the actors in this production function much like the crew they are portraying. At the helm, Tyler Layton as Powell is electric. Layton fully encompasses the stage with her presence, but never at the expense of another actor. The artists that make up the remainder of the group match her intensity and the result is a powerhouse pack of performances. Every character is dynamic, nuanced, and fully realized. To single out only select performances as notable would be a disservice to this outstanding cast. Their individualized portrayals come together to create a masterpiece.
Direction by Shawn Sides matches and enhances her cast. Vignettes offer a more intimate glimpse into the daily lives and relationships of the characters. Staging is fresh and real with each choice and discovery feeling like it is being made in the moment in front of the audience. To capture the feeling of rushing waters on land is no easy task, but Sides excels recreating the more thrilling moments of the play.
Design elements were also a highlight. Costuming, props, lighting, and set design all blend together to create a beautiful, cohesive production. Costume design by Benjamin Taylor Ridgway expresses each character's individuality while also making them easily identifiable in the play's more chaotic moments. Lighting and set design by Miriam Alexander and Jacob Foster, respectively, creates fluidity in the stunning visual elements that echoes the waters the characters course.
MEN ON BOATS is hands down, must-see theatre! This production accomplishes what all plays aspire to, but few achieve - all-around excellence. The crew's journey, described by Sides as "an apt metaphor for the peril faced by many in our society on a daily basis, " is fraught with important meaning while still maintaining levity and fun. This "rollicking" sometimes vulnerable show reminds its audience to find adventure in their own lives. After all, we only get one.
MEN ON BOATS is now playing at Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University (3001 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704) until November 18th. Remaining performances run Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:00p.
Approximate run time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Ticket prices: $10-$25 (discounts for students, seniors, and SEU community available).