EMAV Review: 'Men On Boats' is a zany voyage at Vegas Theatre Company
★★☆☆☆ - Still Hungry
Vegas Theatre Company (formerly Cockroach Theatre) is staging a wild, zany, and all-over-the-place production of Jacklyn Backhaus’ comedy “Men on Boats.”
The play takes us on a reimagined 1869 exploration of the Colorado River by Major John Wesley Powell, and meticulously based on his journals. The twist is all the parts are portrayed by female or nonbinary actors as a matter of design by playwright Backhaus.
As directed by Allegra Libonati, this production is a muddy mash-up of theatre styles. At times it comes across as spoof, at times satire, and others farce. Still others, it strays into commedia del arte while the audience is sprayed with water bottles, invited up to dance, and actually asked to leave with one of the sojourners as if the audience should be in on the gag. With enormous talent on the stage, from Mathinee Washington and Valerie Carpenter-Bernstien to Kim Glover and Barbara King, there’s a whole lot of untapped ability. King has some especially lovely scenes writing in the journal.
The dialogue gets treated with so much emphasis on so many words that the meaning behind those words is lost. On the opening, the actors mime rowing, then by magic an actual oar appears, then a bit later there are two real oars. At times we get real food (sausage, biscuits), at times it’s fake food (fish, snake), at times the actors mime eating (bacon). There is one real apple then shared by the cast after the mimed ones are tossed away because they’re “mealy.”
At one point early on, an actor pushes small set pieces around, scraping against the floor and drawing focus from the scene on the opposite side of the stage. One of the final scenes, as an actor leaves the expedition, a good portion of the audience is treated to a full view of the Las Vegas street behind the theatre venue, leaving any sliver of suspension of disbelief behind. Though, admittedly, that suspension is shattered at the top of the show when a stage manager hollers “Places!” while in full view of the audience.
The set is gorgeous, filled with flats and movable pieces all in the beautiful hues of canyon walls. Swirls of water are painted on the floor and bring to mind the flow of the river. Asia Milburn’s costumes and Sydney May’s lighting are both well done.
As a history lesson of sorts (Lake Powell, anyone?) it’s an interesting excursion, but the production as a whole misses the boat.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 5:00 p.m. Sundays through March 15
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 S First St, #110
Tickets: $25 - $33 (www.theatre.vegas, 725- 222-9661)
Producer: Vegas Theatre Company; Artistic Director: Daz Weller; Director: Allegra Libonati; Scenic Design: Alexia Chen; Lighting Design: Sydney May; Sound Design: Rosalie Chaleunsouck; Cosume Design: Asia Milburn; Production Stage Manager: Nichole Killion