The Catamounts: Men on Boats
By Emilee Hatfield
Believe it or not historical events are slowly finding their way back into theatre. The idea of seeing it performed on stage can be a bit daunting but thrilling, just as it must have been for the people that took place in the very events that are being told. But then comes the interesting question when the opportunity arises. What story can be or should be told? Obviously there are many, however one playwright Jaclyn Backhaus found the need to tell the story of John Wesley Powell's 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River. But with a defining twist that sets her play apart from many. That being there are no men. The entire cast of historical figures that took part in the very expedition are played by women. It isn't just this trait that separates, The Catamount's production of Backhaus's Men On Boats apart. No, what sets it truly apart from many shows that are opening this fall season here in the Denver Metro Area, is that there is a clear sense of fearlessness that is truly encases the irresistibly we as human being find whenever it comes to the unknown adventure that awaits us.
The production directed and co-choreographed by Amanda Berg Wilson, banked on the shore of the Carsen Theatre at The Dairy Arts Center, Saturday night to an anticipating crowd. With a star studded cast, filled with both well known, and new talent, the audience members at this performance could not stop laughing, nor could they look away as this group of explores charted down the Colorado River right before their eyes.
Leading the group was GerRee Hinshaw who takes on the role of General John. W Powell himself. Her charismatic and demanding performance is a sight to behold, with such raw emotion and strength one couldn't help but find the need to follow Hinshaw's lead into the great canyon and down the rapids to the very end. Satisfying to say though all the performances in this group of talented women are so pleasing to watch. Their dedication to the piece shines through, with not only boundless artistry but with just a sense of pure fun.
This is after all what some explorers did this very trip for. Fun, they wanted to see what this part of the country was and what it could be while making a name for themselves. And this group does it and more. Every bit of character is drawn out by each actress. Giving their male characters such...depth and unique personalities with great humor. So many performances stood out that during the entire run of the show I didn't know which way to look because each actress was just giving it their all. And that can be hard to do, especially when it comes to a more historical play rather than something simply made up by a writer.
These were actual men that made this journey, and experienced all that came their way. Each actress portrays it again with a great sense of humor, realism and wit that only the likes of this company, Karen Slack, Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Edith Weiss, Erika Haase, Ilasiea Gray, Joelle Montoya, Jessica Austgen, McPherson Horle, and Missy Moore could give to the lucky audiences that will see this play through it's run.
But it isn't only in the acting that this production finds it's charm. The production team, with set designs by M.Curtis Grittner, Lighting design by Kristof Janovic, and Sound design by Brian Freeland, go hand in hand, creating the Colorado river, it's cliff in all its majesty before your eyes without needing much to send imaginations soaring with wonder. Their designs also bring life to rough territory that hides behind the beauty and death that could be at every corner for the expedition of explorers that seemed to find struggles the further down they travel.
This play of course can be seen as a comedy, but with the direction that Berg Wilson has taken with it, I don't think one could classify it as such. It's so much more. It's a true balanced piece of theatre with both seriousness and comedy so neatly tied to one another you can not see the distinction between the two. Which creates a perfect afternoon of storytelling.
Though this is the first production with The Catamounts I have experienced I can assure you it will not be the last. The fearlessness that is produced in this show is far too hard to ignore, and creates a story that could have easily been a boring historical play. Instead it turned into a night of hilarious, genuine and real performances accompanying a story with simple but strong bones that could withstand the very best of theatre.
Put simply, this is a journey down the river you need to be on.
The Catamounts: Men on Boats, runs from September 22nd - October 13th at The Dairy Arts Center's Carsen Theatre. For tickets visit https://thedairy.org/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=TheCatamounts or call the box office at 303.444.7328