Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Remember that book? It rang true because as a woman it sure is difficult to really understand men. We think they can be so crass and seem to have a hard time getting past their machismo sometimes, right? (And I’m sure men are just as confused about women.) In the latest Cape Rep play, “Men on Boats,”10 women got a chance to explore both the mystery of testosterone and reenact an historic event worth commemorating.
In 1869 explorer and soldier John Wesley Powell was commissioned by the U.S. government to explore uncharted territory, the Green and Colorado Rivers which snake through what we now call the Grand Canyon. Powell and a group of men in just four boats embarked on this journey into the unknown with supplies, chutzpah, and very little else. Playwright Jaclyn Backus took this page from our American history and honored it, but gave it a wild twist and called it “Men on Boats.” Backus kept her script true to the history, but wrote it with contemporary dialogue and cast women as the men in the boats. An interesting premise to say the least, but it works, and it works with hilarious results.
Incredibly, the script and these outstanding actors capture the awe-inspiring sights these explorers saw, the terror of white water rapids and even waterfalls all with a comedic air. Director Maura Hanlon has assembled a dream team of performers, each a standout actor on their own, so to see them in an ensemble is such a treat. Not an opportunity is missed as each one literally throws herself into the role. At some point you almost forget they are women portraying men. They’ve become Powell, the leader (Amanda Collins); Old Shady, Powell’s quiet yet supportive brother (Cara Gerardi); Hawkins, the cook (Emily Murray); Dunn, the outspoken one (Victoria Flores); Sumner, the realist (Alison Weller); Bradley, the wide-eyed boy (Lindsay Erin Agnes); Hall, the mapmaker (Leanne McLaughlin); Goodman, the Brit along for the ride (Tabitha Gayle); and the rough and tough brothers O.G. and Seneca (Trish LaRose and Jess Andra).
During the course of their mission, the men become friends, joke around, reminisce and argue about which way to go just like any group traveling together. There are many laugh-out-loud moments: Dunn wanting to name landmarks after himself, O.G.’s swagger, Sumner’s paralyzing fear of snakes, Shady bursting into song, episodes of flatulence and so many more. Wait until you see the waterfall scene!
Ryan McGettigan (set design) and Phil Kong (lighting) managed to imaginatively create the sights and the wild rides these explorers encountered on their boats. Aaron Mack’s sound design with a healthy smattering of familiar rock music added an exclamation point to the modern dialogue. Robin McLaughlin’s costumes were spot-on. There’s a lot of action and some poignant moments too; all the cues created and calculated by Hanlon and her designers are implemented correctly by stage managers Allison Davis and Kate Gulden.
Take a ride with the “Men on Boats” and get your ticket today. The two hour show with a 15-minute intermission is funnier than anything you’ll see this summer. Guaranteed.