River's End
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Ed Smith

Marin Theatre’s opening musical production this season takes us on a historical journey, with mythic proportions, down the Colorado River as it winds through the Grand Canyon. River’s End is based on the true story of Bessie and Glen Hyde, a newly married couple who attempted to navigate the Colorado River on a wooden raft in 1928. Had the two not mysteriously disappeared on their journey, Bessie would have been the first woman to ride the river. This was at the time Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic was in the news.

But there were many different versions of the story that arose and are still told today by river guides. The musical depicts two of the most prominent stories, focusing mainly on two very different Bessies – one extroverted and ready to take on any challenge, the other introverted and never sure she’ll be up for the down river run. Their husbands aren’t that different so the natural focus of the drama is on the two opposite Bessie characters, and it’s this opposition that is the driving energy of the story.

The Colorado River too is full of opposing forces – twists, turns, rapids and undercurrents – and it’s always referred to as a woman. There is wildness to the river that no one can tame, but being able to ride it fills both Bessie characters with pride and a primal vitality.

But it’s the music that makes the most stunning bridge over this powerful flow of feminine water with song titles like: My love is a River, The Perfect Run, Chance of a Lifetime, Reaching the Limit and Only the River Knows. An added treat is having the musical’s composer, Chuck Larkin as pianist and musical director. There are also a cast of great voices including Molly Bell, Dani Marcus, John Patrick Moore, Travis Poelle, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone and J.D. Nelson.

Director Lee Sankowich really had his work cut out for him since he was essentially directing two stories and two sets of characters. “With both couples on stage, simultaneously most of the time, their stories must at times mesh and at others diverge, all while remaining focused and theatrical,” Sankowich said.

All and all Marin Theatre has brought us a unique blend of music and drama as mysterious as the Colorado River. For tickets and more information call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

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