by Patricia Frischer
Men on Boats, a play by Jaclyn Backhaus at New Village Arts in Carlsbad (March 31 – April 22) is having its premiere on the west coast. The whole cast is women but the play is about the male explorers of 1896 that went down the rivers of the grand canyon for the first time. We were extremely impressed by the dedication of the cast who prepared physically for this performance. The director, Melissa Coleman-Reed put them through their paces with a variety of mind/body/movement techniques (one of which was the Susuki method) that she had learned and used in previous plays. We saw them do a demonstration of some of these rigorous exercises and it was beyond impressive.
The Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts, Kristianne Kurner, who is also the founder of NVA, plays John Wesley Powell and a great cast of 9 other female actors make up the ten man expedition.
The way this play depicts the river trip is through movements that are choreographed like dance. There is a bit of song, rather like ditties sung over the campfire and some unison spoken word segments that are powerful. The men all have distinct characters that are revealed over the course of the journey. But this is not a play about women pretending to be men. Instead we see revealed the things that drive men to be adventurous, to be bold, to be courageous. We see the results of power struggle and fear. In the end we see how frivolous, vain and silly men can be. And we are left with the question, should women be more like these men, or are men and women more alike than we realize. Certainly the women in the cast had a team experience and conveyed that experience with its humor, joys and struggles.
Murillo’s set, Elisa Benzoni’s costumes, Melanie Chen Cole’s sound and Sarah Schwartz’s lights
Photos by Daren Scott except for last image of set by Patricia Frischer
|A shout out now to the set designed and lighting that helped make the sequences on the rive come alive. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set, Elisa Benzoni’s costumes, Melanie Chen Cole’s sound and Sarah Schwartz’s lights|
Read more: Men On Boats: True(ish) history comes to life on Carlsbad stage La Jolla Light by Lonnie Hewitt Burstein
One Program Note Is Key to Inventive ‘Men on Boats San Diego Story by Martin Jones Westlin