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BWW Reviews: Butterworth's THE RIVER Drowns in Its Own Ambiguity

Hugh Jackman and Laura Donnelly
(Photo: Richard Termine)

Given that Hugh Jackman is one of those actors who can pretty much name whatever Broadway vehicle he desires and producers will quickly nab a theatre, confident of healthy profits, one would wonder what it was that attracted him to Jez Butterworth's lethargic little chamber drama, The River, aside from a 90-minute work day.

Paired again with director Ian Rickson, who mounted his Jerusalem on Broadway a few years ago, Butterworth's effort is intentionally filled with ambiguity and unanswered mystery designed to keep viewers guessing. Unfortunately the ambiguity gets so dense, and the dialogue so lifeless, that there's little to hold one's attention.

Hugh Jackman and Laura Donnelly
(Photo: Richard Termine)

The play is set in a secluded cabin, represented by designer Ultz as a long runway three-quarters surrounded by Circle In The Square's audience. An unnamed fellow (Jackman) has been staying at that cabin on trout fishing excursions since he was young. Now he's brought a date (Cush Jumbo) for the trip and though she's not so keen on the idea, he convinces her to gear up by waxing poetically about the thrill he gets from catching beautiful creatures. The fact that we later see him taking a knife and gutting one of those beautiful creatures might be taken as a symbolic gesture in a stronger play. Here, it just seems a novelty.

Another woman (Laura Donnelly) becomes involved, but to explain exactly how or to reveal much more would betray the playwright's intentions. There is a bit of a payoff eventually, but this is one of those plays that will have viewers deconstructing the plot to try and make sense of it well into their second post-theatre cocktails.

The energetic Jumbo and the wry Donnelly do as well as can be expected, but the impact of Jackman's sturdy, quiet masculinity often fades under Charles Balfour's too-dim lighting.

The River is the longest 90 minutes Broadway has seen in quite some time.

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