Cash strapped this summer? Don’t stress! You can still enjoy a brief staycation by pointing your compass in the direction of West 42nd Street. Here, you can dodge rocks, scrounge for provisions, learn the importance of teamwork and get drenched while you tackle the Colorado River in 1869. Furthermore, you can reap all of the aforementioned benefits from the comfort of your theater seat.
Playwrights Horizons has joined forces with Maria Striar’s clever theater company Clubbed Thumb, the brainiacs behind Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats. Last summer, the offbeat comedy opened to rave reviews. Wisely, these “men” are back and are funnier than ever.
Men on Boats is inspired by true events about John Wesley Powell’s government sanctioned expedition that occurred in 1869. Powell led the charge with 9 of his men by his side. Initially, when I glanced at the synopsis, it didn’t strike me as the stuff of gripping theater. Boy! Was I wrong.
Director Will Davis keeps the action as brisk as the rapids themselves with the help of Backhaus’ rollicking script. Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design, featuring still life projections of wildlife and cheesy but effective V-shaped, hand held boats also add elements of fun to this tale.
Yet the most pleasantly surprising element here is the casting. Thanks to Asta Bennie Hostetter’s period costumes, the cast look like men, walk like men, and talk like men but in fact, they are females! This technique is incredibly effective as many of the funniest lines are delivered with sardonic glances. It pokes lighthearted fun at the Dos Equis machismo inhabited by far too many “tough guys”.
Backhaus also manages to subtly imbue a moral lesson here as well regarding Native Americans and land ownership. It offers some thought provoking moments in the midst of otherwise quirky antics.
For theater lovers awaiting the fall season, Men on Boats will “tide” you over until the busy season resumes. For casual theater goers, it will be equally as enjoyable. Best of all, your 90 minute holiday is only a subway ride away.
Men on Boats runs Off Broadway through August 21st at Playwrights Horizons (West 42nd between 9th and 10th). For tickets and information, click here.