Acting ensemble creates dynamic Grand Canyon adventure

By Bob Evans

No one would know that the cast of The Unicorn’s season opener, “Men on Boats” features a mix of established and novice talents who absolutely chew up the dialogue while entrapping the audience in their down-stream adventure of exploring and mapping the Grand Canyon in 1869.

“Men on Boats,” a co-production with UMKC Theater features a cast of well-known actresses alongside the UMKC graduate students in a stunning, adventurous story about men traversing the Colorado River on an adventure from Wyoming to Arizona. The twist? The entire female cast portray real-life male explorers on the first successful journey down both the Green River an the Colorado River.

This co-production furthers the art and craft of the UMKC students as they work beside seasoned professionals and hone their skills at the different aspects of theater arts. High-caliber acting, sound, score, lighting, properties, costumes creates a mesmerizing adventure story, and the humor of using modern dialogue and gestures creates continued laughs as the story hoists the audience and brings them along on the adventure.

Jaclyn Bachaus wrote the play, “Men on Boats,” and for the KC production, Cynthia Levin, The Unicorn’s producing artistic director, handed over directorial control to Missy Koonce to create the stage magic. According to notes, the director chose to use an all female cast to tell the story of adventuresome men on this maiden exploration and mapping of the Canyon. “Men on Boats” tells the story of Major Powell and nine brave explorers who undertook the mission and successfully navigated the waterfalls, rapids, rocks, whirlpools, and lived to write their place in history.

The story involves four boats of adventurous men who embark on a mission to map and guide through the unchartered Grand Canyon. Their task: successfully complete the journey, record their findings, live to tell their stories. The journey takes them through both calm and rushing waters and past relics of a previous unsuccessful navigation attempt. Along the way, the audience learns the inside story of the explorers and envisions the perils the face, daily.

Expect The Unicorn to select and present fresh, new plays to the KC Metro area. “Men in Boats” just adds another brick in the wall of successful plays mounted in their nearly 45 year history. The Unicorn’s productions always include brilliant acting, beautiful lighting and sound, unique set design, good costuming, and an intimate atmosphere to put the audience inside the play. “Men in Boats” succeeds on all those aspects.

For this production, the set design, properties, lighting were some of the technical strengths. The most noticeable of the technical work, the musical score, stands out as it features sounds uncommon to the ear with swells and ebbs as the men navigate the river. The changes in music allows the audience subtle nudge into the action and heartbeat of the play.

The cast is: Vanessa Severo as Major John Wesley Powell, Jessalyn Kincaid as William Dunn/Mr. Asa, Yetunde Felix-Ukwu as John Cotton Sumner, Carla Noack as Old Shady, Emilie Lela Karas as Bradley, Chioma Anyanwu as O.G. Howland/Teauwait, Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo as Senecal Howland/ The Bishop, Megan Sells as Frank Goodman, Katie Gilchrist as Hawkins, Marianne McKenzie as Hall. Felix-Ukwu, Karas, Sells, McKenzie are UMKC students.

The artistic staff for the production also engaged UMKC students working beside professionals. The staff is: Tanya Brown, stage manager; Kelli Harrod scenic designer, UMKC student; Jon Robertson, composer/sound designer; Hector Quintero, lighting designer, UMKC student; Maddie Rowe, assistant sound designer, UMKC student; Katherine Davis, Costume designer, UMKC student; Maia Nieto, assistant costume designer, UMKC student; Shannon Barondeau, projection designer, UMKC student; Mark Exline, properties designer, UMKC student.

Likewise the production staff featured UMKC students working with professional staffers. The staff is Gregory Chafin, technical director; Boni Newberry, dramaturg; Chloe Robbin, production assistant; Maddie Rowe, sound board operator, UMKC student; Kylor GreeWww.unicorntheatre.orgne, master electrician, UMKC student.

“Men on Boats” continues on The Levin Stage of The Unicorn Theatre in mid-town Kansas City, through Oct. 1. Special “pay what you can” performances are available on Tues.-Thurs. performances. Details can be found via the box office and online at The Unicorn website.

Tags: Unicorn Theatre, “Men on Boats”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theat, Bob Evans and Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre

Author: Bob Evans

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