Relationships. Commitment. These are the central themes in the listless new play, The River, that stars a more sedate, thoughtful Hugh Jackman. For theater-goers looking for the full throttle, action hero Jackman normally plays in his movies, The River is not the show for you. This 85 minute, intermission-less play is a talkative, languid production. Playwright Jez Butterworth has woven a tale of fishing as a metaphor for one man’s failed romantic encounters.
The play takes place at a cabin on a river where sea trout have returned to spawn. The Man (Hugh Jackman) is revved up for the hunt, the sport of fly fishing and wants his lady friends, The Woman (Cush Jumbo); The Other Woman (Laura Donnelly); and a third female to share in his enthusiasm. In fly fishing the challenge, after much patience and courting, is to land the silvery fish. We see Jackman pursue his women with this same fervor and exhilaration. However, he is never able to hook one of the sea trout just as he is incapable of successfully wooing any of the women he becomes close with.
Hugh Jackman, potentially sinister, and circumspect, is intense, but also rather staid in his performance. He can deliver passionate speeches and create moments of tension, but the problem is his character is one-dimensional, without much depth. Both Cush Jumbo, as The Woman; and Laura Donnelly as The Other Woman are competent actresses. But they are more like the river trout—plain and satisfying–rather than like their more accomplished, transformative brethren, the sea trout.
Jez Butterworth’s work, which has been described as lyrical and full of imagery is, unfortunately, tedious and sluggish here. Not much happens, but a number of monologues and exhortations that just don’t register as two people truly interacting and communicating. Butterworth can rhapsodize beautifully as when Jackman’s character describes the art of fly fishing, but overall the play lacks luster.
Director Ian Rickson hasn’t brought much life to the show. There are a lot chairs and furniture being moved around the small Circle-in-the-Square stage, but not much else. On the other hand, his collaboration with Hugh Jackman on preparing a sea trout for dinner is quite impressive. Too bad none of the characters actually eat any of it—they are too busy talking.
The River, playing now through February 8th.