The Theatre Council is set to perform “Men on Boats,” a feminist play written by Jaclyn Backhaus, in the Theatre-in-theRound this weekend.
The play is based on the journal of John Wesley Powell and tells a story about him and his men exploring the Colorado River in 1869. However, there’s just one twist—the male characters are portrayed by female actors.
“Backhaus’ point is that women are as capable as men to be adventurers and explorers as witnessed by the recent female astronauts,” said Peter Reader, associate professor of theatre who ultimately picks what show the theatre council performs.
Reader said he saw the play at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival last year and found it “entertaining and topical.”
The production is directed by Susan Speidel, an adjunct professor at Kean University. She said that this is her first show at Seton Hall, but has directed shows for several other colleges and even used to teach at the University.
Speidel has a specific vision for the show. She said she wants the scenes to flow with very few blackouts. The actors will move props and part of the sets during scene transitions. Since the company cannot recreate the Colorado River, the audience will have to use their imagination.
The cast members received their parts and scripts before winter break so that they had time to prepare. They have been rehearsing four days a week for three hours.
Savannah Moore, a freshman modern languages major who plays the role of William Dunn, said she did a lot of research to prepare. She Googled things like the recordings of different productions of the play and background information on the show and her character.
“This role has definitely been a more difficult one to connect myself to personally, as I am very different from my character,” Moore said. “Namely, I am not a man nor do I often find myself on a boat. One way I do connect myself to my character, however, is through emotion.”
Moore added that the amount of stage time each of the characters gets creates a challenge for the actresses.
She said although it is true that an actress is usually happy when she has a lot of stage time, “in this show, in particular, being on stage for such prolonged periods of time can be very difficult, as— even though we may not have many if any lines in a scene—we have to be completely engaged at all times because the movement is so precise and particular and the audience is on all sides of us at all times.”
Moore added, “I guess the amount of information we have to have memorized that is so vital to the show running smoothly is what contributes most to the difficulty of the quantity of time onstage.”
Melinda Primorac, a sophomore theatre, political science and philosophy major, will play the role of John Colton Sumner. Primorac said that her favorite part of this show is the diversity.
“The characters in Men On Boats were historically cisgender white males,” Primorac said. “This cast should be made up entirely of people who are not.”
Primorac said one of the challenges of this show is the movement because the cast has to create the illusion of being on a boat in a river.
“We are pretty much constantly moving in some way, like swaying,” she said. “Some of the scenes are more intense in terms of the movement to account for the different parts of the river. It’s also really important that our movements are uniform, so we really have to be aware of our individual movements as well.”
Samantha Paradise, a sophomore theatre major, will play the role of Hawkins. “I have done a lot of physical work to be more man-like,” Paradise said. “Women have been taught to take up as minimal space as possible and so unlearning that for me was a struggle but has allowed me to really connect to the man I am playing.”
Moore said she is most excited for the audience to see the growth in the relationship between the characters. She said, “It is such an interpersonal show that, to some extent, all the characters grow in their relationships with each other and learn from each other whether it be positively or negatively.”
The production will run from Feb. 20 through 22 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Theatre-in-the-Round in the University Center. Tickets are free.
Victoria Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.