‘Men on Boats’ Lands at Pittsburgh Playhouse (Wed., 3/15/22)

MEN ON BOATS by Jacklyn Backhaus. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre. March 15 – 19.

Who remembers the days of old, when men were men, hearty and bold? New York-based playwright Jaclyn Backhaus read about those days as a girl growing up in Arizona, and she gives them a historically accurate but comically revisionist treatment in Men on Boats. The play is drawn from John Wesley Powell’s journal of his geographic expedition of 1869, in which he and nine others traveled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. All were rugged, skilled outdoorsmen. Yet the trip was hair-raising, as their areas of expertise did not include steering wooden rowboats through ferocious, rock-infested rapids that the local Indigenous people knew better than to mess with. Backhaus puts a twist in history by specifying that the expedition’s madly macho men be played by “actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, gender-fluid, and/or non-gender-conforming.” Although some modern rugged individualists have walked out of previous productions of Men on Boats, the toughest audience members stay with it and find the play a hoot. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre floats Men on Boats in the company’s Highmark Theatre, 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (M.V.) 

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Mike Vargo

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