by Beki Pineda

MEN ON BOATS – Written by Jaclyn Backhaus; Directed by Amanda Berg Wilson. Produced by The Catamounts (presented at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut) through October 13. Tickets available at 303-444-SEAT or thecatamounts.org.

Walking into the theatre at the last minute without grabbing a program, I was faced with a group of tough looking people on the stage in frontier clothing. As they begin to talk and “row,” it slowly became evident that they were women sans makeup, sans glamour.  These are women intent on telling a story – that’s all.

Then I started recognizing some of the faces. There’s GerRee Hinshaw as Powell, the one-armed leader of the expedition, barking out orders. And there’s Karen Slack as Dunn, the second in command. Jess Austgen plays an English “tourist” who joined the expedition for the adventure of it and was the first to leave. Missy Moore is the cook; Mac Horle is the mapmaker. There are hunters and soldiers and Old Shady (Edith Weiss).

The physicality of the ladies as they row down the river is amazing to behold. Their muscles strain – their shoulders are taut – they jump, leap, fall in the “water” and get rescued by their comrades. The “on the river” sequences become a masculine ballet depicting the dangers of the river in a very realistic dance. These ladies can give up the gym during the run of this show. It is clear that Director Berg Wilson runs a tight ship.

This is basically a documentary about the 1869 three-month expedition down the Green River into the Grand Canyon for the purpose of mapping the route. It was a horrific experience fraught with danger. What started as an adventure became a life-threatening ordeal. Yet even mountain men have a sense of humor and an even stronger sense of loyalty and comradeship.

Mike Grittner’s simple set full of movable boxes and planks doesn’t get in the way of the story while creating river banks and mountain tops.  The costumes by Steffani Day are gritty and raw, perfectly complemented by the ladies willingness to perform unadorned with styled hair or make-up.  Kristof Janezic’s lighting adds mood and an appropriate dark atmosphere.  MEN ON BOATS is a never-leave-your-seat adventure for the audience.

A WOW factor of 9!