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Theatre Conspiracy having fun with history in ‘Men on Boats’


Ten explorers. Four boats. One Grand Canyon. Jacklyn Backhaus’ adventure dramedy, Men On Boats, is the true(ish) history of an 1869 expedition, when a one-armed captain and a crew of insane yet loyal volunteers set out to chart the course of the Colorado River. Now you can join them in their erudite expedition. Men on Boats opens in the Alliance for the Arts Foulds Theatre on October 21 and runs through October 31 (but you’ll be home in time to greet all those trick-or-treaters).

In the summer of 1869, a Civil War vet (and personal friend of President Ulysses S. Grant) by the name of John Wesley Powell led a band of nine other explorers on a government-sanctioned expedition through the Green and Colorado River canyons. The three-month journey transported them through the Wyoming Territory and present-day Utah and Arizona. It was a big deal back then, as the expedition marked the first recorded passage of white men through the previously-uncharted Grand Canyon.

Originally developed and produced in 2o15 by Clubbed Thumb, Men on Boats is largely based on John Wesley Powell’s journals of this 1869 expedition, which he published under the title of The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. And while Director Rachael Endrizzi’s outlandish explorers duly encounter disaster, harrowing adventure, conflict and camaraderie along the way, in keeping with the tradition of Backhaus’ acclaimed play, the cast is composed entirely of women – in this instance, Shelley Sanders, Anna Grilli, Anne Reed, Stacey Stouffer, Shaun Cott, Carmen Crussard, Holly Zammerilla, Kayleigh O’Connell and Tiffany Campbell.

The use of unexpected, nontraditional casting coupled with modern vernacular frees the audience to apply present-day values and sensibilities to view past events – in the tradition of Hamilton (by way of example).

With a plot like this, irascible characters drawn from the annals of frontier history and an all-star cast, Men on Boats is certain to be a hit, so reserve your seats in the Foulds Theatre early. Go here for play dates, times and ticket information.

October 1, 2021.

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