Category Archives: The Catamounts

Exploration of the Colorado River Results In Exciting Theatrical Experience

Wild Tale Of The Powell Exploration Is The Catamounts Gem in Boulder

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
October 9, 2018

Alright, already – the men aren’t men. The cast is entirely female, dressed as male frontier explorers, excellently guiding the audience through the saga of John Wesley Powell’s first trip down the Colorado River in1869. What a trip!

The Civil War had concluded five years earlier. The transcontinental railroad had just begun operation, sufficient to transport boats for the Powell expedition to enter the river at what is now Green River, Wyoming. The entire expedition down the Green, connecting to the Colorado, and concluding at the western edge of the Grand Canyon was fraught with peril. The telling of the story is fraught with peril of its own as the amazing cast is jostled through rapids, over waterfalls, with sometimes brief stretches of calm on the three-month journey.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured GerRee Hinshaw

Staging is remarkable. There is no water in sight, but the production has been incredibly choreographed and directed to have the audience feel we are actually with the group on the river, and on the dry land for campfire meals, and local explorations. When boats are capsized, the audience wants to reach out to “grab” the expedition members to save them from drowning. Fortunately no one drowned on the expedition, although four of the original ten members did leave the group before journey’s end as the river emerges from the cliffs of the “Grand” canyon.

This is theatre at its most remarkable success. Director Amanda Berg Wilson has done an excellent job in putting the actors through their paces, to bring a feeling of raw courage and realism in the production. The women become the “men” they portray, as gender becomes unimportant.

GerRee Hinshaw portrays the one-armed Major John Wesley Powell. He lost his arm in a Civil War battle, but that has not reduced his ability to explore rivers. By the time the expedition begins, he is already one of the most river-travelled men in America. He is portrayed in “Men on Boats” as a stern leader, with great knowledge of river travel, less knowledge of how to deal with men under his command. Near-mutinies result. He has been hired by the U. S. Government to head the expedition, and intends to succeed – despite frequent criticisms by the men in his charge.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured McPherson Horle, Ilasiea Gray, Missy Moore, Karen Slack, GerRee Hinshaw, Joan Brummer-Holden

The group is a motley crew. There William Dunn, convincingly played by Karen Slack. Dunn is a hunter and trapper, excited when Powell decides to name a mountain peak after him. Joan Bruemmer-Holden portrays John Colon Sumner, a former soldier in the Civil war, and now a western explorer. Edith Weiss becomes Old Shady, another Civil War vet and older brother of the expedition’s leader. Erika Haase is Bradley, a youthful part of the team sometimes with more courage than sense. Ilasiea Gray is O. G. Howland, a printer and hunter, with Joelle A. Montoya playing Howland’s younger brother Seneca. Jessica Austgen is the British Frank Goodman, initially so very excited to be part of the group, but with a desperate longing to be back somewhere in Europe, preferably on the beaches near Marseilles. McPherson Horle is Hall, the mapmaker; and Missy Moore is Hawkins, the cook whose role becomes increasingly challenging as rations run dangerously low.

The show’s program notes that “The Catamounts create audacious contemporary theatre … believing in the necessity of new work, the power of collaborative creation, the constant innovation of artistic forms.” They succeed in all endeavors with this uniquely creative production. Author is Jaclyn Backhaus. The show’s thrilling endeavors are the action on the stage, as the river tests the courage of the expedition. The script does beg for more information about what is not told. I did race home to “Google” more about the expedition and the characters portrayed.

Last week my wife and I went through a few areas mentioned on the expedition story. We stopped briefly in Green River, Wyoming, where the group began the journey on the Green River. Just outside Moab, Utah, we found a plaque about the Expedition on one of the overlooks of Canyonlands National Park. We then stopped in Green River, Utah, to visit the John Wesley Powell Museum.

Photo by Michael Ensmginer.Pictured Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Jessica Augsten, Karen Slack

Today’s views of the canyon from above are remarkable. There is “civilization” with motels and stores, only to look down the canyon to see still-forbidding landscape of the Green and Colorado rivers that merge just outside Moab. The incredible story of traversing the rivers, thanks to Powell and his “Men on Boats,” has become fascinating history.

The Catamounts theatre company is making fascinating history on its own with this exhilarating production.

“Men on Boats”
Through October 13, 2018
Where: The Catamounts Theatre Company
Dairy Arts Center, 2500 Walnut Street, Boulder CO
Tickets: www.thecatamounts.org , or 303/444-seat

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The Catamounts in Boulder present a Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

DISNEY_POSTERsml“Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney is an Interesting“ Look at the Creator of “Micky Mouse.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 23, 2015

Just the mention of the name “Walt Disney” conjures up impressions of “The Magic Kingdom,” family entertainment, nature documentaries, “Disneyland,” “Mary Poppins,” and yes – “Mickey Mouse!.” Some of these warm and fuzzy ideas about the motion picture genius are about to be threatened by The Catamounts’ interesting take on Disney’s later years. The Boulder-based company staged “A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,” as written by Lucas Hnath.

Paul Borrillo as Walt. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

This was my first opportunity to see The Catamounts. The evening was an adventure by itself – having difficulty finding the theater’s entrance, then being warmly welcomed into the theater, separated from the parking area by a curtain and a nondescript door. The night I saw the show, the production was arranged for theater-industry guests. It was as if I was attending a private party of long-time friends, delighted to see one another, and welcoming some new faces to their crowd – my wife and I attended the show with friends – none of us having any idea what we were about to see!

The reading’s title is nearly as long as the performance , that is actually about 70 minutes, with no intermission. The length was about right, as four persons seated on a table facing the audience as if they were reading a screenplay could become a tad tedious if it were longer. As currently constructed, however, the show is a fascinating look at author Hnath’s take on what may have developed if Disney had written the show as his final production.

Paul Borrillo is mightily impressive as the famous Disney. His portrayal doesn’t create new fans for the animation genius, as we learn he was an egomaniac, usually treating his family and close associates with great disdain. His daughter’s memories of being raised by him resulted in her reminding him he was such an awful father, that she didn’t want any of his children to be named after him. He used anyone to achieve his personal aims, treating his brother Roy, as if he barely existed, and actively disliking his daughter’s husband, Ron.

Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger
Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

Mark Collins is very good as the brother, who appears to keep Walt appearing as somewhat normal, while taking the brunt of Disney’s idiosyncrasies and unpleasantness. Jason Maxwell portrays Ron, his daughter’s husband. He appears as a none-too-bright chap, eager to do anything to please his father in law, or at least have a job! Lindsey Pierce plays the daughter. She has the gumption to confront her father about his meanness, but the confrontation does nothing to change her father’s intents.

Some looks behind the Disney productions are delightfully revealing. Disney insisted on making a live-action documentary which included a sequence about Lemmings jumping to their deaths by suicide. The Lemmings tale was eventually shown to be completely false, and Disney required his brother to take responsibility for the “error.”

The “Unproduced Screenplay” reading concludes with Disney’s head being purportedly cryonically frozen the idea that he’d eventually return to life. This is the tale that author Hnath proposes Disney would have written, had he authored his own story! In reality, Disney died at age of lung cancer 65 and his remains were cremated.

Amanda Berg Wilson directed this fascinating piece of theatre. I was intrigued with what I saw, and the show did result in my wanting to “know more” – spending time with Google to decipher Disney fact from fiction! The “Public Reading” generated substantial discussion among those in attendance, trying to figure out what was fact and what was fantasy – and how we might wish to write our own story for future posterity!

“A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney”
March 13-28 2015, The Catamounts in the madelife building, 20001 21st Street, (East entrance), just off Pearl Street in Boulder.
For tickets: 702/468-0487
For information about The Catamounts: www.thecatamounts.org

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