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BWW Review: THE RIVER at BoHo Theatre


BWW Review: THE RIVER at BoHo Theatre

In THE RIVER, Tony Award-winning playwright Jez Butterworth spins an atmospheric tale with as many twists and turns as its namesake. Following its 2012 premiere in London and subsequent Broadway run, Jerrell L. Henderson directs the Chicago premiere by BoHo Theatre, now a resident company at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

The intimate three-hander opens in a rustic cabin where fishing enthusiast "The Man" (Joe Lino) has brought his equally anonymous new girlfriend, "The Woman", (Christina Gorman), for a weekend of catching sea trout. But she is not the first female visitor to The Man's hideaway in the woods. A series of flashbacks (or perhaps flash-forwards) introduces "The Other Woman" (Chelsee Carter), and before long, the two women's eerily similar narratives intertwine in surprising and disturbing ways.

Butterworth's plays often feature troubled characters with dark secrets or hidden motives that make them inscrutable even to loved ones. THE RIVER falls very much in this vein. Both women are seeking love and are open-or for The Woman, "not closed"-to finding it with The Man. When they discover that The Man is a liar, the women find themselves on shifting ground as they try to decipher the truth, and the audience shares this unsettling journey with them.

Lino, Gorman, and Carter are a well-matched trio. Gorman makes a spunky and likable Woman, though she holds secrets of her own. Carter's Other Woman is warmer and more open to love, though these qualities ultimately make her more vulnerable to The Man's schemes. As The Man, Lino seems a convincing everyman until his deceptive, manipulative behavior becomes increasingly apparent. In one scene, he points out that the sport of fly-fishing is a form of trickery, and the observation is clearly a metaphor for his approach to relationships.

The great novelist Henry James wrote, "Never say you know the last word of any human heart." In THE RIVER, Butterworth sheds doubt on the possibility of knowing the first word about one's fellow passengers to the grave. The anonymity of the characters' names adds to this sense of futility and lends a chilling universality to their stories. Unlike many contemporary tales of isolation, Butterworth doesn't seem to blame modern society for driving these characters apart. The play could be set in nearly any period, and the poetic language elevates the drama to feel timeless. Are humans ever capable of fully knowing and loving one another? We can only strive to prove the answer a resounding "yes."

THE RIVER runs through July 28 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614. Tickets are available at 773.404.7336 or

Photo credit: Auston Oie

Review by Emily McClanathan

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