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By Iride Aparicio

Photos Credit Scott Lasky

PALO ALTO, CA-- Written by Jacklyn Backhaus in 2015 for the Larami Project, MEN ON BOATS is a distinctive play about men and boats. It was presented LIVE by Palo Alto Players at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, from February 5 through February 20 and in stream on demand from February 17 through 20.

The action of the drama about ten men, in a river adventure was represented by nonbinary actors dressed as men. Listed in alphabetical order they were:
Jenni Chapman (Bradley) April Culver (Frank Goodman/Mr. Asa) Naomi Evans (Seneca Howland/Johnson), Melissa Jones (William Dunn), Jennifer C. Maggio (O.G. Howland/Just Jim) Mary Melnick ( John Wesley Powell) Maria Mikheyenko (Old Shady) Katie O'Bryon (Hawkins), Patty Reinhart (John Colton Sumner) and Jaime Wolf (Hall).

The plot of the play was inspired by the historical writings of one of the men, John Wesley Powell, who was a man with no right arm, who in the pages of his travel loge, wrote about a river trip in the Colorado River that he and nine other men took in  l869 after been hired by the United States government to chart the course of the River and explore the American West. He navigated the river using four small boats, which could easily be carried (while walking on land) by four men. He assemble his crew, with nine brawling American men, who had been explorers,  soldiers, trappers  and adventurers.

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Directed by Bay Area Award-winning director, choreographer and teacher Lee Ann Payne, the play moves seamlessly on the stage. As for the acting, every one of the ten actors acts with realism.

Because these men are (representing) to be scouting unknown terrain, most of the play's scenes take place outdoors, and because they are actually charting the route of the river, about two thirds of their voyage is in the river, so much of their dialogue is descriptive of what the mean are seeing or experiencing as they sail.  

The masterful set design of Heather Kenyon, managed to convert the stage of the Lucille Stern Community Center theatre into a canyon, with steep and jagged reddish walls, and the realist props of Scott Ludwig who designed the four front hulks of  the small wooden boats, held by the actors, give us, the audience, the impression to actually be seeing sailing ships floating into the Colorado River. The effect is perfect each time than three of four actors sway their bodies in perfect unison, to the left or to the right, to simulate  that they are moved by the river waves as they are floating along this river with protruding rocks, sudden turns, and swirls,  which the audience can easily imagine as one of the sailors in the boat shout, at intervals, "left," or  "Turn Right" "keep center"  "Bank" " "Water fall, Water Fall." The intonation of their voices describing the obstacles that  they are encountering in the river. Their shouts, their movements and their expressive facial expressions, adding realism to the scenes.

As a play, the action, and realistic acting of every one of the actors is tops. And the acting requires a great change of emotions in each actor because they are exploring an unknown terrain. They are sailing, and during their sailing they have accidents, among them a wrecked boat, happy moments of discovery, but also days of starvation because their supplies got wet when they sunk with the No Name, as the boat that sunk was named. The trip is so full of happening that it keep the audience glued to their seats.

As a piece of theatre, MEN ON BOATS is creative, well planned, well directed and convincingly acting. The only criticism we could give it, is in its dialogue. A play depends on dialogue and MEN ON BOATS was written as an screenplay. It is visual, it has a lot of action, but, little personal dialogue among the characters. Because of it, we, the audience, do not know who this characters are, what moved the to take the expedition, what do they expect from it? do they have families? we could go on. So, the only flaw in this play is that there are too many characters and that aside from their names, we (the audience) learn very little about each one of of them. And this causes a problem in a dramatic production, which is that because the audience, did not get to know these men, they can not care about what is happening to them.

For Information contact Palo Alto Players -1305 Middlefield Road, - Palo Alto, CA 94301 Telephone  650 329-0891. or