‘Men on Boats’ paddle through Rapid City, bring new perspective on old history

Black Hills Community Theatre performed their second showing of “Men on Boats” in the Performing Arts Center on Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. as a part of their 2021-2022 stage season to an audience of around one hundred. 

“Men on Boats” by Jaclyn Blackhaus is a comedic retelling of the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 that sets out to see the expedition through fresh eyes. The play’s casting explicitly calls for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming actors. Several lines of comedic dialogue also rest on naïve and arrogant comments from the non-native – white – explorers. Even through its comedy, the play still effectively displays the determination and bravery of the explorers even as their supplies begin to dwindle.

In the playbill, director Joanna Lawler and technical director Rodger Hartley describe the story as “True(ish).” The directors write that knowledge is always limited by what was recorded and by whom. The story written by Blackhaus makes a note of this in character dialogue from time to time as they set out on their expedition.

The characters lose multiple boats throughout their journey. They also run extremely short on supplies, partially due to cargo loss. Quarreling also breaks out among various members of the expedition. Finally, the group reaches the rapids. Some members are too fearful of the dangerous waters to continue. Six members eventually reach the canyon’s end and live to tell the tale.

Lawler took on the role of George Bradley for the Jan. 29 showing. According to event manager Alexis Christenson, the cast member originally cast to play Bradley was unavailable due to illness. 

Board member Natalie Slack said that the past two years had been particularly challenging due to COVID-19. The board regularly considers COVID-19 precautions and restrictions. Christenson said that mask requirements for guests and staff would likely be standard for the rest of the BHCT 2021-2022 main stage season. 

“Men on Boats” Photo by Russell Jensen, Sage Photography