BWW Review: THE RIVER at TheaterWorks
When does a passion for something become an obsession? And does the desire to share that passion with another person create a unique opportunity to build a bond or an opportunity to push the other person away? "When we find each other, are we trying to recapture someone that was once lost?" These are some of the questions answered in Jez Butterworth's (JERUSALEM, THE FERRYMAN) THE RIVER, the opening play of TheaterWorks' current season in Hartford.
THE RIVER, is an intimate play, set in a small, remote fishing cabin on the "cliffs above the river" where the owner, The Man (Billy Carter) is hosting The Woman (Andrea Goss) in what appears to be her first visit to the cabin. The Man, a quiet and somewhat reclusive fisherman, tries to convey to his girlfriend how special and magical the evening truly is, as it is a new moon and the one night per year where the sea trout make their way upstream, ripe for the catching.
But soon the story twists, much like the bend of the river of the title, when in the following scene we see the panicked man who has lost his companion in the dark and is so shaken he has phoned the police for help. Then, unexpectedly, another woman, The Other Woman (Jasmine Batchelor) appears, indicating to the audience Butterworth's play may not be as straightforward as expected. It is difficult to share much more about the plot without giving too much away, and part of the experience of THE RIVER is letting it unfold organically, allowing the audience to make its own assumptions about the motivations and the actions unfolding on stage. But it does soon become clear that what is taking place is a sacred ritual of sorts, with this lonely and reclusive man welcoming the woman he loves in to experience his world and share this passionate piece of himself with her.
Butterworth's script for THE RIVER ebbs and flows, and has a magical, lyrical, and poetic quality to it. This is especially apparent in the scene where the man recounts the story of his first catch and this quality adds to the mystical and mysterious nature of the play. Even the silent scene where the Man slowly and deliberately cleans and prepares a sea trout for dinner feels poetic, with each slice and movement purposeful and choreographed. Rob Ruggiero's direction is quite effective, creating the intimacy the story requires while also conveying a sense of building energy and anticipation. Ruggiero effectively delivers, through THE RIVER what he calls in his program notes "...the visceral nature of baiting and hooking, catching and releasing - the push and pull within the act" and it is utterly enthralling.
In terms of the cast, Billy Carter delivers a solid performance as the stoic yet intensely passionate fisherman. He is like a puzzle whose answer is slowly revealed to the audience (and to his companions) while still maintaining a bit of mystery. This slow reveal helps us understand his motivations and his shortcomings. The two women each bring a unique quality and personality to their roles. Andrea Goss's Woman is focused but clearly passionate in her own interests, and hiding a secret that is revealed later in the play. As The Other Woman, Jasmine Batchelor is the opposite - bubbly, energetic and funny. Overall the couples each have clear chemistry and are believable in their romantic connections.
Brian Prather's set for THE RIVER is a perfect fit for the small TheaterWorks space. The rustic cabin is believable in every detail and even has a working waterspout (critical for cleaning the fish and cleaning up afterwards) and a wood burning stove. The set is as much a character in the play as its players, creating the mysterious setting for the action to unfold. John Lasiter's lighting and Frederick Kennedy's sound add a smoky overlay to the action onstage creating a dream-like feel throughout.
Jez Butterworth's THE RIVER is the perfect show to open TheaterWorks' season with. It is intensely personal with an ethereal quality that leaves you with more questions than answers (in a good way). The production values, as always, are first rate, and most importantly, THE RIVER makes you think and stays with you long after the proverbial curtain closes, and isn't that what good theatre is all about?
THE RIVER runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through November 11. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to twhartford.org
Top Photo: Billy Carter
Photo credits: Lanny Nagler