Tantrum Theater is putting on the absurdist comedy Men on Boats, a show about neither men nor boats, that demonstrates the meaning of friendship and adventure through a unique, historical lens.
The show opened Oct. 7, and the remaining shows will be put Oct. 12-16, with the performances showing at 8 p.m. and an additional Oct. 16 performance showing at 2 p.m. The cost for students is $5, and general admission is $10. Masks will be required as well as proof of vaccination or a recent (within 48 to 72 hours) negative COVID-19 test.
The show, while available in person, will also be streamed virtually to allow for possible accommodations due to COVID-19.
Josh Coy, interim producing director, said though the show takes its own creative spin and includes plenty of inaccuracies, the basis for the plot is derived from true, historical content.
“It’s based on the diaries of westward expansion and mapping out the Colorado River, which was done at the time by John Wesley Powell and a crew of other explorers of various socioeconomic status,” Coy said. “But the way the playwright has flipped this story on its head is by having us cast non-cisgender, white males in all the roles. So, it puts another spin on how the story's told versus its previous historical perspective.”
River Coello, a first-year acting MFA student, is the assistant director for the show. Coello said the show’s themes are rather wholesome, emphasizing the importance of relationships amid the adventure.
“If I were to describe it, it would be a tale of friendship and camaraderie and bravery and exploration,” Coello said. “All of this happens in the context of exploration, and I think it has that comedic twist on it, with a very specific and over-the-top physicality and a little gender-bending.”
The aspect of gender-bending is a vital component to the show, according to the descriptions made by the playwright, Jaclyn Backhaus. Thus, the cast for Tantrum Theater’s performance of Men on Boats was chosen accordingly.
Shannon Davis, director of the show, said the gender-diverse element of the show allows for the story to be told more holistically and with more nuance while also creating a comedic effect.
“Our core team and our cast is all women, non-binary and trans folks, and the playwright has written in specifically that this is a historically-inspired piece about cis white men, and the cast should be comprised of anything other than cis white men,” Davis said. “So, we have a very diverse group of people with different life experiences, of different races, different ethnicities, different cultural backgrounds and different genders all coming together and creating this piece, and it's richer for it.”
Davis said her approach to directing this show was to make it more collaborative, which challenges the traditional, hierarchical structures of theater.
“We tend to call it a decolonized process where everyone has a weighted opinion in the room, and we're all a part of whatever this process in the show will become,” Davis said. “So, that means that the actors have a part in setting their blocking, setting their choreography, coming up with the music, making active choices. It's not all dictated by me but, rather, I helped them funnel their creativity to tell the truth of the story.”
Tantrum Theater chose the show over a year ago but was uncertain about how the show would unfold due to the coronavirus pandemic. With numerous precautions set in place during rehearsal and the in-person performances, Coy said it is exciting to see some semblance of normalcy returning to the stage.
“This is the first time in two years we've been on stage,” Coy said. “And it's been a long, hard road to get here. We've produced the whole time, and we're one of the only professional theaters operating any university in the country that has done that. In fact, I've been told we're the only one that didn't shut down at all. So, we're tired, but we've gotten here. And it's exciting theater’s coming back a little bit. We're glad to be a part of that and help keep those artists working and to keep the university moving forward.”
With the sacrifices made within theater productions due to the pandemic, Coello hopes audience members who come to see this show will not only be entertained but will also transform the way that they think about theater altogether.
“It's ultimately a show that will probably incite all sorts of emotions, but I want the people in the audience to remember what theater can do for them,” Coello said. “It's been a couple years now since (OU had) a live show. And so just being in that space, I hope it feels literally like magic. And I guess the other aspect of it is really to leave the show rethinking a lot of expectations that we place on the theater process or the theater product and what makes sense, and just leave it behind and start thinking new possibilities.”