Cappies Review: Oakton High School’s Men on Boats

(Photo: Oakton High School Theatre Arts Department/Graphically designed by Fatima Rafie and Monica Kwon)

(Photo: Oakton High School Theatre Arts Department/Graphically designed by Fatima Rafie and Monica Kwon)

Jamie Jeong and Caroline Jareb

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Review by Jamie Jeong

The Grand Canyon is a historical landmark that everyone is familiar with; however, most do not know who to accredit for discovering the chasm. Oakton High School’s production of Men on Boats fixes this problem by spinning the story of John Wesley Powell, played by Madison Shannon, and his crew, who rode boats into new territory and face many challenges along the way.

On this journey, Powell and his men encounter both internal and external obstacles that show a side of exploration one would rarely see. While there were wholesome moments with the crew enjoying each other s company, there were often fights among the men and many environmental challenges that made them question whether this expedition was worth the trouble.

This concept was most shown through Dunn’s character, played by Becky Woolf. Strong performances from Shannon and Woolf were what drew the audience to the edge of their seats as they watched the characters conflicting ideals unravel. These dark messages the play often alluded to, however, were balanced with the humorous and uplifting scenes and characters such as Old Shady, played by Aspen Harter, and Hawkins, played by Sarah Bleier. The good balance allowed the audience to have a good time watching the show, while also taking a deeper message out of it.

In addition to its well-cast characters and powerful performances, the score and set also contributed to the show s wonderful execution. The score was created by the students themselves, Nathan Guevara and Asa Nero, and fit each scene perfectly. The set also set the scene with its canyon walls, beautifully colored lighting, and sound effects in the background, making the stage really seem like the wild outdoors.

(Photo: Oakton High School)

Review by Caroline Jareb

As the lights faded, music of the western frontier swelled, and the audience was placed in a time of exploration and the unknown. Oakton High School’s Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus followed a diverse crew commissioned by the government to explore the Colorado River in 1869. It is loosely based on the real expedition of John Wesley Powell and although the characters are all men, it was written to be played by all women.

Madison Shannon plays Powell, the one-armed leader of the crew. She delivered her monologues of leadership and empowerment extremely well and her character s motivations were clear. The play portrayed comradery and conflict through this expedition and Becky Woolf’s character William Dunn along with Shannon brought both these elements alive on stage. The characters of Old Shady (Aspen Harter), Bradley (Jackson Smith), and Hawkins (Sarah Bleier) had the audience bursting with laughter. The variety of personalities on stage created jokes everyone could enjoy. Their energy kept the audience engaged, especially during the scenes in the river. Their facial expressions as they fell down waterfalls and swirled into whirlpools kept the audience on the edge of their seat, wondering if they would survive. The cast also did an amazing job of portraying the opposite gender. They had both masculine and feminine traits and made it easy to believe they were men, not just women playing men.

The technical aspects of the show were clearly carefully crafted as they allowed the audience to truly see the landscape of the uncharted territory being explored. The paper-mâché walls brought a unique texture to the stage that was emphasized by the LED lights shining from below. The lights created interesting shadows on the walls and made it look like real rocks and cliffs. The colors of the walls and lights worked together to create a consistent and gorgeous color palette. The lighting, designed by Abby Cortez, immersed the audience into the show and built intensity during certain scenes by shining lights into the audience as the cast looked out at the Grand Canyon in awe and using swirling colors when boats were lost. The most outstanding achievement of this show was the music composed by Oakton students Asa Nero and Nathan Guevara. It enhanced every aspect of the show and whenever it played, it fit extremely well. It grew and died down when needed, and made the audience feel the tension and emotion of each scene. When there wasn’t music, there was consistently other sounds such as fire crackling. It made the audience truly feel as though they were in nature as nature is never silent.

At the end of the day, shows are made up of individual components. During performances, they are put together to create something the audience will enjoy. The individual pieces of this show worked together incredibly well and emphasized each other in unexpected ways. These aspects helped keep the audience along for the ride. It was like they were in a fifth boat and were also men on boats.