The Golden Review: Valparaiso, IN and Songbird Prairie

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Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Valparaiso, IN.

Welcome to my 50th B & B review.  Having reached this magic number, I wanted this review to be something special.  I needed a destination with lots to do, a top of the line inn, and I wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip.  I pored over my spreadsheet of inns to find something to fit the bill and as I perused the Indiana section it hit me right between the eyes.  I found Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast, a luxury inn which has won numerous “best of” and hospitality awards over the years.  I booked a room and eagerly looked forward to a grand adventure.

Friday evening found me making the trek to Indiana.  I had decided to split up the drive over 2 days so I would have energy for activities once I arrived in Valparaiso so I made an overnight stop at a Travelodge in Iowa City, IA.

 

It had been a fairly pleasant day when the drive started, but by the time I had rolled into Iowa City, it had become a hazy gray and the humidity had shot past the roof.  So humid was it, that I actually saw steam rising from pools of water from a storm that must have dumped on the city before my arrival.  The conditions felt perfect for a tornado and I later learned that one had touched down just outside the city, but nothing came of it.

The hotel was serviceable and even had a swimming pool.  I deposited my luggage in my room and cast a grateful eye on my king-sized bed.  The smell of a Domino’s Pizza down the hall reminded me that I should probably do something about my own hunger.

A restaurant called Los Agaves Mexican Grill was attached to the hotel and solved my problem of finding a place to eat.  My waiter, Jose, brought me a bowl of chips and salsa while I looked over the menu. I opted to try the Chiles Colorado.  Shortly after my order, a plate of grilled beef tips in a spicy red mole sauce with Spanish rice and refried beans appeared before me.  With the use of warm corn tortillas, I made several “tacos” to enjoy the meal.  It plugged the spot dead center and I went back to my room and laid down to sleep.

The bed was quite comfortable as I slept the sleep of the dead.  I’m talking limbs splayed out, slack jawed sleep.  After waking up, I got cleaned up and had the hotel’s deluxe continental breakfast which meant some hot items were available.  I had a biscuit with some sausage gravy and a bowl of Frosted Flakes with a cup of orange juice to wash it down and was back on the road about 90 minutes later.

I enjoyed a very peaceful drive as I listened to the tunes of my MP3 player and wondered if Indiana had finally completed the construction which had bedeviled me several times over the years.

They had.

But it didn’t make much difference as traffic still slowed to a snail’s pace after I crossed over.  However, as I only had to travel about 11 miles to reach my exit, the slower pace didn’t cause me any duress.

So it was that I found myself in Valparaiso, hometown of popcorn magnate, Orville Redenbacher.  The town of Valparaiso is also nearby the Indiana Dunes for those who like the outdoors, Chicago for those seeking big city fun, and South Bend, IN if you’d like to visit Notre Dame.

Songbird Prairie, owned and operated by Barbara and Efrain Rivera, is nestled out on a wooded acreage just outside of Valparaiso.  The large, red mansion is at the end of a long gravel road.  I was met at the door by Barbara who gave me a tour of the home.

Luxurious is indeed the word to describe this inn as it not only boasts very fancy and comfortable rooms, but it also has a spa room and gift shop.

Barbara led me to the Robin Suite, the inn’s best room.  This elegant room had a king-sized Ethan Allen bed, carpet so soft that my feet practically sank in the fibers, brownish-green walls with an outdoor mural of blue sky and clouds painted on the ceiling, a fireplace (only operable during colder months), and a huge bathroom which featured a chromotherapy Jacuzzi.

 

After getting settled, I headed off to services at St Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Due to the size of the parking lot, I thought this would be a good sized church, but it was actually quite small.  The service was quite energetic and you could see that Father was full of the Spirit as he talked about the glory of the Resurrection and even used the traditional Protestant greeting of “He is risen” and the congregation actually responded with “Indeed He is risen.”

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St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church

After a vigorous service, I was ready for dinner and I decided to try the Industrial Revolution.  This restaurant  celebrates America’s technological advancements and each week a different pioneer is featured.  This week, it was the man who brought Atari to America.  For dinner, I decided to try the Garlic Parmesan Burger with a side of garlic potato wedges.  The burger was actually quite tasty, but could have benefited from some more vegetables.

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Industrial Revolution

The day started to catch up with me, so I went back to the inn to give the Jacuzzi a spin.  This was a smart bathtub.  A light goes on when the tub has reached the proper level of water.  You can set the duration and intensity of the jets which are pinpoint and built into the walls of the tub.  The tub even uses chromotherapy which means that the tub cycles through a series of colored lights to help bring you into a deeper state of relaxation.  I stayed in the tub for nearly 45 minutes soaking up every joule of heat.  From there, I crawled into bed and set a white noise machine to the sound of rainfall to fall into the blissful arms of slumber.

I awoke the next morning to see that real rain had actually fallen during the night.  A light sprinkle was still falling, but it wouldn’t derail any of the day’s plans.  But, first, I needed some breakfast.

Breakfast is held in the sun room which is miked so guests will be serenaded with the music of songbirds.  Now I have had the privilege of enjoying some very fine dining in my travels, but this had to be the best presented meal I had ever had.  Each course was a piece of artistry in how it was framed on the plate.  The artistic description especially suited the first course as Barbara had carved watermelon into the shape of birds and served them with a cranberry scone.

The main entrée was French Toast souffle with sausage patties and the souffle was incredibly on point especially with the wonderful aftertaste of cinnamon.  For dessert there was strawberry sorbet and beverages were orange juice and water served with lemon and a bit of mint, I believe.

 

I had a big day planned and got started immediately.  I headed to the nearby town of St John to visit The Shrine of Christ’s Passion.

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The Shrine of Christ’s Passion

The Shrine is a walking version of Christ’s Passion or The Stations of the Cross as they are known in Catholicism.  Members of all branches of Christianity visit every year and it is a profound experience.  If you’re a believer, you must experience this place.  If you’re not, you just might become one after visiting.

The Shrine is absolutely free and survives solely on donations and sales from the gift shop.  The gift shop is pretty impressive and has a wide variety of Christian gifts, literature, and a second floor where it’s Christmas year-round.

The walking area contains 40 life sized bronze statues that feature the Stations with a few extras such as the Agony in the Garden, the Last Supper, Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection, the Ascension, and Moses on Mt Sinai.  The detail of the statues is incredible, especially with the eyes which brilliantly communicate the emotions of the various moments.  I was transformed as I walked the path and truly felt like I was watching my Savior walk the path of the cross.

 

I spent nearly 2 hours at the Shrine and bought a meditational called Jesus Today by Sarah Young on my way out.

I reflected on the experience as I drove back to Valparaiso where I would visit Zao Island.

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The dragon of Zao Island

Zao Island is a little fun park that features batting cages, an arcade, laser tag, go-karts, a super slide, a small gator farm, and two mini-golf courses that USA Today called the most interesting in the country.

That last part is what really caught my attention.  I wouldn’t normally play mini-golf by myself, but I wanted to experience this one given the newspaper’s statement.  The course didn’t quite meet my standards.  For me, the fun in mini-golf is gimmickry and challenging holes.  While there were a few complex holes, they were pretty much straightforward putting greens and failed to scratch my itch.  My own personal tastes aside, the park has more than enough to do for an afternoon of family fun.

I returned to the inn to begin a bit of writing and headed out to dinner at about 5:30.

I decided to try Yats Cajun Creole.  This is a small eatery near Valparaiso University with a daily changing menu.  I decided to have some gumbo and this time it truly was a stew as it was served on a plate.  The stew part of the gumbo was tasty, but I would have preferred a little more of the stew and a little less rice.

From there, it was back to the inn for a quiet evening of writing and reading before another Jacuzzi bath and setting the white noise machine to waterfall to help put me out.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of water with lemon and mint, orange juice, a fruit cocktail of apples, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, and oranges, lemon poppy and banana nut muffins, bacon, herb baked potatoes, omelet stuffed with cheese, peppers, and ham, croissant, with a choice of several small cheesecakes for dessert.  I had just enough room to sample the lemon cheesecake with edible butterfly.

 

And that, my friends, brings an end to the Golden Review.  I will actually be slowing down the B & B portion of this blog for a bit to focus on some other things.  I still fully intend to continue with an annual Christmas review, but other reviews will be sporadic for a little while.

But, if you find yourselves in the Valparaiso area, enjoy a bit of luxury at Songbird Prairie while you’re exploring.  You may find it hard to tear yourself away after having a taste, both literal and metaphorical, of its elegance.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

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It Will Be ‘Epic’ At GPTC

Epic – PART OF GPTC’S NEIGHBORHOOD TAPESTRIES PROJECT
Written by Ellen Struve
Directed by Michael John Garcés
Translations by Lucia Francisco and Marina Rosado.
Wednesday, May 29 at 7:30pm
Thursday, May 30 at 7:30pm
Friday, May 31 at 7:30pm
Metropolitan Community College/ South Omaha Campus ITC 120

Exploring the lives of contemporary South Omaha Mayan and artist communities through a time bending journey of the ancient Mayan stories of the Popol Vuh, this multi-generational play will include music, puppetry and pageantry.

CAST
Ximena Herrera-Baro
Francisco Franco
Edwin Garcia
Juana Marcos
Luis Marcos
Reyna Marina Pedro Mateo
Manny Onate
Eulalia Pedro
Marina Rosado
Brisia Valdovinos
Juan Valdovinos
Catie Zaleski
Hugo Alberto Zamorano

PUPPETEERS
Julie Huff
Britta Tollefsrud

DESIGNERS/TECHNICIANS
Mark Bruckner
Ashleigh Dawn Kreigh-Fleming
Rick Goble
Madelyn Hubbard
Lynn Jeffries
Mark Krejci
Jocelyn Reed
Savannah Reed
Savannah Savick
Valerie St. Pierre Smith

In partnership with Abstract Mindz, South Omaha Mural Project, and Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim.

FREE ADMISSION LIMITED SEATING
For more information: http://www.gptcplays.com/epic/

OCP Ends Season with a Little “Ragtime”

Omaha, NE–Tony Award winning musical, Ragtime, will open Friday, May 31 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from May 31-June 30.  Performances will be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

A tragic, yet hopeful, tale, four time Tony Award winning musical, Ragtime, explores the pursuit of the American Dream and the meaning of family.  Set in the melting pot of New York City at the turn of the century, the lives of a wealthy white couple, a determined Jewish immigrant, and an African American ragtime musician intertwine, creating a rich tapestry of American life.  With soaring ballads and a stunning score, these characters are connected by their compassion, belief, and resolution that they, too, will find their place in the world.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $32 with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800, or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Ragtime (Written by Terrence McNally and based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow

Music and Lyrics By:  Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens

Directed By:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Paul Tranisi as Father

Jodi Vaccaro as Mother

J. Isaiah Smith as Coalhouse Walker

Dara Hogan as Sarah

Mike Palmreuter as Tateh

Pieper Roeder as Little Girl

Dominic Torres as Little Boy

Jon Flower as Younger Brother

Nelson Lampe as Grandfather

Megan Kelly as Evelyn Nesbit

Jordan Smith as Booker T Washington

Zhomontee Watson as Sarah’s Friend

Mark Haufle as J.P. Morgan

Brandon Fisher as Henry Ford

Kevin Olsen as Harry Thaw

Jay Srygley as Stanford White

Bob Gilmore as Admiral Peary

Brendan Brown as Hensen

Bowen Peterson as Harry Houdini

Joey Hartshorn as Emma Goldman

Justin Dehmer as Willie Conklin

Amanda Srygley as Brigit

Julia Ervin as Kathleen

Taylor Plank as Chorine

Lauren Taylor Anderson, Janet Goodman, and Elizabeth Planck as Sob Sisters

Ensemble features Sheldon Ledbetter, Ejanae Hume, Erin Florea, Olivia Howard, Olivia Bryant, Serena Johnson, Cody Girouex, Lynn Ramert, Alex Nilius, Danny Denenberg

 

A Love Cursed

Out of tragedy is born love.  And out of that love arises another tragedy. . .and a bit of hope.  Come discover the story of the Tin Woodsman of Oz before he became the Tin Woodsman in the Strangemen Theatre Company’s production of The Woodsman by James Ortiz with music by Edward W. Hardy and lyrics by Claire Karpen.  It is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

The hardest thing about writing an article is coming up with a good conclusion.  This time, it’s a piece of cake.  Go see this show.

OK, now let’s get to that analytical stuff.

I knew I was going to see something different when I saw this show, but what I didn’t know was just how good it was going to be.  Ortiz has written a sensational tale about the pre-metal life of the Tin Woodsman.  It’s sweet.  It’s moving.  It’s even a little spooky at times and you’ll likely shed a tear or two before it’s all through.  For the purists, the transformation to the Tin Woodsman is very faithful to L Frank Baum’s description from the original Oz novels.  For those thinking of bringing kids, it means it’s a little grim, but not overly violent.

Ortiz draws from a wide variety of performance styles such as straight dialogue, pantomime, puppetry, and musical.  Outside of a prologue, a song, and a rare word here and there, this show is done with no dialogue and I think that’s where its real power lies.  The actors have to tell a highly nuanced tale with naught but facial expressions, body language, and little expostulations of sound.  The result is a production that ranks as one of my favorite shows of the season.

James Ortiz and Claire Karpen co-direct this singular tale and their control and execution of the story is like watching a master painter create a masterpiece from scratch.  Finding beats in dialogue is tricky enough, but finding beats without the spoken word is another beast all together and the two directors expertly strike each and every one without effort.  Under their coaching, the performers “tell” this story with crystal clear expressions and body language that let me “read” this story just as easily as I read novels.  Their direction combined with movement direction from William Gallacher creates a story that really invokes all of your senses.  You can almost smell the campfire, hear the pounding of a panicked heart, and feel the texture of a warm hand on a body that no longer has sensation.

The ensemble is a critical part of this production as they literally become the world.  They are the trees of the forest.  Their whistles are the songs of birds.  Their snaps are the pop of a fire.  Their slaps are the blows of an ax.  They also play a variety of supporting parts and I was especially impressed by the work of Barry Carman and Stephanie Jacobson as Pa and Ma Chopper as they tell an excellent story about their courtship and their life together complete with posture changes to signify their aging.  I was also floored by the work of Michael Burns, Caulene Hudson, and Be Louis with their puppetry of the Wicked Witch of the East.  Their skilled manipulations made the Witch seem like an otherworldly force of nature and a truly vile villain.

The beauty of Anna Jordan’s performance as Nimmee made me want to weep.  She has an absolutely phenomenal physicality that makes for great pantomime.  You can feel and see the fear in her tense body whenever the Witch is around.  Her selling of the routine physical abuse dealt to her by the Witch is spot on.  The slow opening of her heart to Nick Chopper is wondrous to behold.  And a bit where she and Nick try to subtly cozy up to each other by a fire is sweet and funny.

Matthew Olsen’s portrayal of Nick Chopper (the flesh and blood version of the Tin Woodsman) is equally powerful.  His love for his family is palpable and it was a joy watching his childish antics as he grew up especially as he learns to fight from his father and properly wield an ax.  His courage is inspiring as he battles a forest monster to protect Nimmee.  And his anguish is haunting as he slowly loses his human nature.

Never before have I seen a show where light was so crucial to its telling and Jamie Roderick’s work is of superior quality.  His lighting is so atmospheric as he takes you to the depths of a pitch black forest with just a wisp of sunlight peeking through to the magical charges of Nick Chopper’s amulet to the dankness of the Witch’s lair.  Jenny Pool’s costumes had a nice old fashioned flair of a long forgotten time.  The set was pretty much bare bones though I thought the tree branches hanging about the theatre and the old fashioned lights set above the stage (and a bit out into the seating area) was a very nice touch.  And the violin score provided by Samantha Perkins was heavenly especially with the haunting song of the Tin Woodsman at the end.

This is storytelling at its finest.  It’s an achingly beautiful and well told love story guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts.  At the risk of repeating myself, go see this show.

The Woodsman plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through June 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  On June 9, there will be an additional 2pm matinee and Jun 16 will have only a 2pm matinee.  Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors) and can be obtained at www.bluebarn.org or by calling at 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

‘The Woodsman’ to Close Blue Barn Season

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents:

Strangemen Theatre Company’s Obie Award-Winning The Woodsman by James Ortiz with Music by Edward W. Hardy and Lyrics by Jen Loring May 16th, 2019- June 16th, 2019.

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 5/26 at 6pm| 2 Shows Sunday 6/2 & 6/9 at 2pm & 6pm | Sunday 6/16 at 2pm

About the Play

Based on the forgotten writings of L. Frank Baum, The Woodsman tells the origin story of the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This hauntingly beautiful love story is told through original music, physical storytelling, and innovative puppetry. Members of Strangemen Theatre Company re-create their Obie Award-winning experience with an ensemble of Omaha professionals. Follow ‘Nick Chopper’ on a magical adventure filled with dangers and wonders that are breathtaking to behold.

About the Production

The performance ensemble for The Woodsman features MoiraMangiameli, Matt Olsen, Anna Jordan, Stephanie Jacobson, Barry Carman, Be Louis, Caulene Hudson, Michael Burns, Beau Fisher, and Samantha Perkins(violinist).  The original creative team behind The Woodsman is in Omaha to work with our incredible local talent in bringing this haunting tale to life.

The Strangemen Theatre Company and the BLUEBARN share another origin story- each company was formed by graduates of the same acting conservatory, SUNY-Purchase.

Strangemen mainstays James Ortiz(Director/Playwright/SetDesign), Claire Karpen(Director), Will Gallacher(MovementDirector), and Amanda Lederer (Associate Director) will lead the BLUEBARN ensemble. The Woodsman features lighting design by Jamie Roderick, costume design b yJennifer Pool , scenic painting by Craig Lee,original sound design by Adam Salberg, and stage management by Meghan Boucher.

Tickets

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org.  Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Floating Follies

You’ve never met a crew like this one.  In the late middle 1800s, ten men begin an exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Come join in their adventures and shenanigans in Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This script is certainly. . .different.  It actually centers around an interesting concept by taking the real life explorations of ten white men and shaking it up with the conceit of all of the characters being played by a diverse group of women.  Unfortunately, the script doesn’t quite measure up to the concept as the story lacks a needed centrality and the characters are not given any arcs.  There are a few howlingly funny moments, but, on the whole, the script felt more like a rough draft than a fully polished work.  Luckily, the efforts and skill of a mighty cast combined with some skillful direction help to make the most out of this show.

Amy Lane’s direction expertly navigates the peculiarities of this story.  The play flies back and forth between period language and considerably more modern vernacular and behaviors which gives the play a real/unreal feeling and playing the truth of that dichotomy is an exceptional challenge.  Ms Lane manages to play that duality by knowing when to go over the top and when to be a bit grounded.  She also has a firm understanding of the interrelationships of these characters and that understanding leads her cast to form the powerful bonds needed to make this show fly.

Some rather entertaining performances are given by Breanna Carodine as a plucky, exuberant Union Army lieutenant who’s happy to serve and by Yone Edegbele and Esther Aruguete who have a shining moment as a pair of snarky Utes who provide food and transportation to the explorers after some of their harrowing adventures.

Teri Fender leads the crew as Major John Wesley Powell.  Ms Fender’s Powell is unflappable in the face of certain danger, pontificates like Captain Kirk, and has a sanity be damned personality.  Indeed, his willingness to jump into the arms of certain death with a smile and a maniacal gleam in his eyes makes one wonder if his sanity is just as absent as his right arm.

Daena Schweiger owns this show with her rendition of Old Shady, the brother of Major Powell, and she does it with nary a word of dialogue.  She was the most convincing man of the lot, utilizing a stooped posture which gave her movements more of a masculine feel and a sandpapery, guttural voice on her rare occasions of speaking helped to complete the illusion.  Ms Schweiger gets the show’s best moment when she launches into an impromptu song about Old Shady’s fish dinner which had audience members practically falling out of their chairs.

Allexys Johnson’s rendition of William Dunn serves as a fine counterbalance to the possibly crazed leader.  Ms Johnson’s Dunn is the most level-headed member of the group who coolly analyzes situations and takes more calculated risks in an attempt to get this team through this expedition alive.  Her yang melds well with Ms Fender’s yin to really make the debates and arguments of their characters spark and pop.

Jim Othuse’s set services the show well with a literally mapped floor and the high, towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains.  John Gibilisco’s sounds ably support the production with the blast of shotguns, the creepy rattling of a rattlesnake, and the thunderous run of the water of a raging river.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are period appropriate with the Civil War military garb of the soldiers, the coonskin caps and buckskins of the frontiersmen and hunters, the pith helmet and proper exploratory garments of Goodman, the expedition’s British member, and the southwestern, cowboyesque clothes of the remaining team members.

The first act was hampered a bit by lack of volume and some mushy diction, but the cast mostly rectified this in Act II.

While the story may be a bit lacking, this talented troupe of performers does provide a fine night of characterizations and their zany antics will give audience members quite a bit of amusement.

Men on Boats plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 26.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $30 for adults and $18 for students with prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to strong language, the show is recommended for mature audiences.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.