Thursday, November 27, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: ‘The River’

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Hollywood hunk Hugh Jackman returns to Broadway in the new play "The River.” NY1’s Roma Torre filed this review.

"The River" crossed the pond after a hugely successful run in London where it has been flooded with high praise - British critics calling it spellbinding, riveting, a gothic thriller. But the real mystery to me is how this frustratingly obscure little play managed to get so far.

Of course it helps to have Hugh Jackman star if you're looking to score a Broadway hit. And indeed, in the role of an enigmatic fisherman, he’s excellent. All of the acting is impressive, but that's about the best I can say about this bewildering work that begs the question - what is it?

A ghost story? A thriller? A psychodrama? Playwright Jez Butterworth keeps us guessing in this moody piece. But instead of red herrings, the catch is dead herrings.

Set in a remote riverfront cabin, Jackman, identified only as “The Man,” is very excited that it is a moonless night because the sea trout will be plentiful and he is eager to share the experience with his nameless girlfriend. They bicker, express mutual affection and the scene ends. Then, lights up on Jackman, frantically reporting to police that his girlfriend is missing. Suddenly she appears. Only, it is a different actress and Jackman carries on as if it's the same person.

The two actresses alternate scenes without explanation. Jackman guts and cooks a fish; and amid a bunch of confusing plot turns, the characters speak in long poetic passages that mostly strain credulity. We are constantly teased with the promise of a big payoff but end up with a meditation on romance and fishing - a theatrical bait and switch.

Director Ian Rickson effectively achieves an eerie air of foreboding, but given the elliptical writing and lack of tangible clues, the play ends much as it begins. Despite its deep ambitions, “The River” struck me as pretty shallow stuff.

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