The River. A remote fishing cabin. A man, a woman, and a moonless night. This is how Jez Butterworth’s new play is promoted. Is it a ghost story? Maybe a mystery? “The River” is intimately a touch of both and is 85 minutes more revealing and prophetic than most of Broadway’s current offerings. It stars Hugh Jackman, Cush Jumbo, and Laura Donnelly and is playing in “Broadway’s most intimate theater”, Circle in the Square.
Jez Butterworth’s “The River” is a story of a man, a woman, and a moonless night. The man takes his new girlfriend (Cush Jumbo) to a cabin located between St. Crispin’s and the Long Pool, a remote area in England. He’s an avid fly fisherman and on one August night he plans a special evening of trout fishing for the two of them. Longing for the passion and rush that comes from catching fish as opposed to sharing a magical moment of watching the sunset with her, they head out to the stream, and return for a night that will change them forever. “The River” is one of, if not the most, enigmatic and mysteriously written and staged of shows. The hook of Butterworth’s play simply cannot be revealed as the whole show would come undone.
“The River” was first produced by the Royal Court, London at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, from October 18, 2012 to November 17, 2012. The North American production, directed by original show helmer, Ian Rickson started previews on October 31st and opened November 16th of this year. On this Saturday afternoon and over 30 performances since its debut, this “River” crackled and sparkled in silent theater of 650 attendees. “The River” is as intimate and direct as its 45 page play and is only aided by its narrow in-the-round stage that allows all patrons to be a part of the show. It’s easily one of the best productions of the year and is a teasingly sensual and dark performance with a magnetic appeal. Due in large to the fact that Hugh Jackman is back on Broadway, the new play by Jez Butterworth is sure to excite fans. Yet it must be cautioned that the man Mr. Jackman plays is far from his heroic turn as Wolverine or the flamboyantly entertaining Peter Allen. The Man is a hauntingly crafted and intriguing character played with amazing nuance by Jackman. It’s his attention to the technical theater taught skill of an actor that draws the audience in with his charming smile and masculine appeal. But it’s his terrific instinct as an actor that creates a strangely poetic man that we immediately recognize from scene one. We feel safe with him and if given the opportunity to go trout-fishing, we’d most surely go. But it is on the river that we learn that every man and woman must face their reflection of who they are and who they’ll be.
“The River” is a beautiful production and poignant reflection of all of us. Butterworth explores the themes of love gained, love lost, and of love recaptured. He adeptly crafts a story that operates at a smart level; that never dumbs itself down for the audience. Much like an elusive fish that slips away far too quickly after being caught, the truth being told through Jackman, Cush Jumbo, and Laura Donnelly’s performances are a rarity. “The River” is so much more than the reflection of a remote fishing cabin, a man, a woman, and a moonless night. Just as Donnelly’s character, The Other Woman says “I wonder what else this water has reflected.”
“The River” gets five out of five stars. And not just for the much talked about scene where The Man (Hugh Jackman) prepares, cooks, and serves a real trout with fennel, lemons, and leeks. After the show Mr. Jackman, ever gracious, took to the diverse crowd engaging with New York natives, two women from Brazil, and an extremely energetic group of people. Then there was the auction to raise money for the terrific non-profit AIDS fund-raising and grant making organization Broadway Cares that included his performance worn t-shirt, his socks and towel; ending with him volunteering everything but his pants, Jackman was able to raise a little more than $10,000 from the audience. Thanking the audience, Jackman wished everyone a happy thanksgiving and then walked off, leaving the 650 group of people in warm spirits.
The River is playing now until February 8, 2015.