The River is intense and well written with a superb trio of actors, including Hugh Jackman in his fourth Broadway production. Jackman, who last graced the New York theatre stage three years ago in Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, returned to Circle in the Square this past November to portray a passionate trout fisherman in this psychological, dark, drama by Jez Butterworth, in a performance that is magnetic.
Originally debuting on the London stage in 2012, The River features Jackman along with two proficient and skilled actors from the London cast in this 90-minute production. Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo, give stunning performances exhibiting prowess for comedic and dramatic execution.
Butterworth, nominated for a Tony in 2011 for Jerusalem is successful in creating a three-character, somber story, powerfully captivating, drawing the viewer into the emotional depths of each person. He is adept at intertwining time and space to exhibit a relational pattern on the part of the Jackman character, who is psychologically tortured and stuck.
The story takes a number of twists and turns growing progressively more deep and morose and the author’s use of repetition can at times be confusing, but overall, drives home the Fisherman’s inability to let go and live in the present.
Director, Ian Rickman’s use of dim lighting to cast a weighty mood and interjection of music to convey the evolving perceptions of the characters is very effective. Stage direction adds further to the poignant melancholy that eventually engulfs the characters.
In spite of the dynamic and haunting performances, and Jackman’s ability to reflect a stoic and concealed sadness, the storyline leaves the viewer with a kind of vacuous uncertainty. The plot, which moves back and forth in time, leaves the audience questioning the true reason for the Fisherman’s disconnect. However, this too is a rather brilliant technique as the reason for Jackman’s character’s profound anguish becomes discernible long after the play is over.
Waiting at the stage door for the cast to exit, audience members looked rather unsettled, with conversational chatter, attempting to make sense of the previous 90-minutes. There was an overwhelming sense that The River did not tie up the ending with a neat bow, but instead, left a cloud of ambiguity and confusion. All agreed, however, that it was riveting and worth seeing and the cast was superb. The River is a limited engagement in New York City, with its final performance on February 8th.