Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review of "The River"

I saw The River on Broadway a few years ago.  The production starred Hugh Jackman and I was anticipating a scintillating piece of theater.  Instead, by the end of the 80 minute, intermission-less show I was scratching my head trying to figure out the play’s meaning and purpose.  When it was announced to be part of the 2018-2019 Theaterworks season I thought it would be a good opportunity to reevaluate my previous appraisal.

Unfortunately, The River is still a meandering meditation on a man’s search for the perfect “catch.”  There are many fish(ing) metaphors in the play.  The characters talk about fish, reminisce about fishing exploits, and one is even prepared on stage. 

The show is centered in a rustic cabin, fastidiously designed by Brian Pather.  The one room dwelling is crammed with nooks and crannies and flanked on either side by birch tree saplings.  We are introduced to characters simply titled The Man (Billy Carter) and The Woman (Andrea Goss).  The dialogue, when not centered on the aquatic animals, is very lyrical and poetic but I just kept thinking that people don’t talk like this.  Very beautiful to listen to, but disharmonious within the setting. 

Within a very short time The Woman leaves the stage and The Other Woman (Jasmine Batchelor) enters, just about replaying the previous scenes.  Who is she?  What happened to The Woman?  Playwright Jez Butterworth seems to showing the man at different points of his life and how the women he falls in love with are never the right one so he always deems it necessary to throw them back and out of his life.  Will he ever succeed?  Back and forth the two women enter and leave the stage until The Man is, finally, alone.

One could wax poetic about the play or talk about the mythical underpinnings that Butterworth is trying to convey but, in the end, the audience needs to be entertained and in The River not much happens.  The inaction undercuts whatever message the playwright is trying to impart.  The play is the type of production one either falls under its atmospheric spell or ponders and wonders.

The cast - Billy Carter Andrea Goss Jasmine Batchelor - is earnest and committed to fortifying their characters with passion and deeply held convictions.  They are expressive whether displaying feelings of angst or disquietude.

Director Rob Ruggiero brings an intensity to the events within the small confines of the onstage room.  There is a lilting quality to his direction, which effectively draws out the sometimes raw emotions of the performers. He also handles the time shifting component of the production with aplomb and a seeming nonchalance.

The River, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through November 11th.

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