VOL. 24 - NO. 3
JAN 13 - 20, 2019
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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: A.C.T.’s “Men on Boats” Is a Brilliant Retelling of 19th Century American Explorers

Nov 09, 2018
by Evan Almdale
A good way to provoke interesting conversation is to ask ‘What if’ questions… What if the South had won the Civil War” or What if Jefferson didn’t broker the Louisiana Purchase? Playwright Jacklyn Backhaus’ innovative and engaging play “Men in Boats,” currently playing through December 16 at The Strand Theater (1127 Market Street) in San Francisco, asks us to consider such a question. What if John Wesley Powell’s 1869 exploratory expedition through the rivers of the American West was staffed differently?

The outcome is a fresh look at our notions about history, gender roles, and expectations. Deftly handled by Backhaus, the play turns conventional ideas on their heads and gives us a story that is at once funny, thrilling and sad. The audience at the performance I attended was enthusiastically engaged for the entire 90 minutes.

Nina Ball’s set minimalistic set design allows you to conjure the white-water rapids and the perilous canyon walls. Directed by Tamilla Woodward, “Men in Boats” features a cast of ten local Bay Area actors including Liz Sklar, Arwen Anderson, Rosie Hallett, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Libby King, Amy Lizardo, Sarita Ocon, Katherine Romans, Lauren Spencer and Annamaria Rajala.

This is a brilliant work that explores what we think we know and how perceptions are adaptable. Don’t miss this thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining production. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets or more information please phone (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

As earlier mentioned, “Men in Boats” is performed at the recently renovated Strand Theater. Built in 1917, this theater was at the center of San Francisco’s vibrant theater scene for many decades. However, with the advent of television in the 1950s many theaters, including The Strand, slumped into disrepair and obscurity. Fortunately, a reclamation project spearheaded by the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) has brought this historic venue back to life. Sit in the lobby café, have a snack, and enjoy the display of photos chronicling The Strand’s rich history.

* * * * *

Photo caption: A brawny and eclectic band of explorers navigate a series of dangerous rapids on the Green and Colorado Rivers in “Men on Boats” — Jaclyn Backhaus’s hilarious, historical, and moving adventure—performing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater now through December 16, 2018.


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