BWW Review: MEN ON BOATS at New Village Arts
Sometimes, in these modern times it's easy to forget the danger there was exploring this vast country of ours. In San Diego we cross a desert multiple times a day from the comfort of vehicles, forgetting this used to be a vast and dangerous place. MEN IN BOATS playing at the New Village Arts through April 22nd is here to remind everyone, in the most entertaining way possible, of the grand adventure and sheer tenacity that helped explorers map out their terrain.
Historically, this group of adventurers was made up entirely of men cobbled together for this historic and government sanctioned exploration traversing the Colorado River from Utah to through the Grand Canyon. This current play takes this crew and places it in the extremely capable hands of ten talented women allowing them to skewer the typical male posturing (chest bumps, posturing for dominance, and general machismo) make it seem even more inane while glorying in the chance to go on an adventure.
Headed up by John Wesley Powell (Kristianne Kurner), a one armed Civil War veteran, this motley crew is ready to make history exploring the unknown. The gender of the performer's aside, this play stays close to the story from the source material of "The Explorations of the Colorado River and its Canyons" - Powell's published record of their historic journey.
Tasked with creating the first official map of the region this ensemble brings their journey to vivid life, with their chemistry, choreography, and charisma. Like every long road (river) trip this crew starts out excited and on good terms; they joke, they tell stories, and they bicker. As the path gets more arduous and challenging, it also challenges their connection to each other. Near death experiences, capsizing boats, and an ever shrinking sash of supplies cause tensions to grow and threaten to break up this crew.
This is an ensemble piece and much like the exploration they portray, would falter without this wonderful crew at its helm.
Kurner as Powell keeps him unflappable through the journey, a bit boastful, and respectful of all of the crew. Samantha Ginn as the cook Hawkins brings an infection energy and humor to her role, which is a wonderful pairing with Joy Yvonne Jones as the ever so slightly more subdued, but powerfully present Hall.
Paloma Dominguez as Sumner is at home in shows of this adventurer and brings a focus and sharp energy to the stage, particularly in the scene in the rapids. Milena Sellers Phillips is strong as the quiet, almost inscrutable, but capable brother of Powell, Old Shady. While Tamara McMillian gives Phillips a run for her money as an equally quiet crew member dedicated to her brother capable and headstrong brother OG played Melba Novoa.
Nancy Ross, brings a wonderfully strong and believable experienced mountain man to life as Dunn; the only member who really has the mettle to step up and challenge decisions made by Powell.
Tiffany Tang as Goodman, an Englishman who just wanted to go on an adventure and Brianna Dodson as the positive Bradley bring some lightness and cheer to the group.
This is an action adventure play brought to life through the cast, set design by Christopher Scott Murillo, Projection and sound by Melanie Chen Cole, and focused directing by Melissa Coleman-Reed. Particularly, the rhythms and the movements when on the boats navigating the river are very impactful.
Like all adventures, this one does go on a bit too long and overall it would be better served as a one act. The choreography of the action in the boats is great, but is not needed in the beginning of the show which only adds to the length and repetitive feel of some moments.
While the theatre may not be large, it is an accomplishment to the cast and crew that this adventure on a river through wide open spaces feels authentic. While the mapping of this area may already e done, this show proves that there is nothing better than going on an adventure.
MEN ON BOATS is playing at the New Village Arts Theatre through April 22nd. For ticket and show time information go to www.newvillagearts.org
Photo credit: cast of MEN ON BOATS Daren Scott and New Village Arts Theatre