Plot Waters Too Murky to Figure Out What Hugh Jackman is Doing By the River
By Lauren Yarger
Let me start out by saying that I although I was somewhat alone in the critics circles a couple of seasons ago, I really liked Jez Butterworth’s puzzling, deep and humorous play Jerusalem (also directed by Ian Dickson).
Critics weren’t sure what the heck it was about, but enjoyed the fabulous performance of Mark Rylance. I appreciated the mythical saga of a man’s journey through pain and felt, yes, somewhat superior to my colleagues who didn’t get it. No longer.
After seeing The River, Butterworth’s newest play, getting a limited run at Circle in the Square Theater with Box-Office-Golden Hugh Jackman as its star, I have to admit I’m in the “didn’t-get-it” category for this one. A colleague texted me after seeing it: “What the heck was that about?” “No idea,” I replied.
Jackman plays a man (listed in the Playbill only as “The Man,” so you know you’re in trouble….) who likes fishing a lot at a “cabin on the cliffs, above the river” – the nonspecifics continue. We know he likes fishing because he talks about it a lot to two women (Cush Jumbo and Laura Donnelly), identified as The Woman and The Other Woman who appear at the cabin separate from each other, but who tend to have the same conversation with The Man….
Is he really just trying to get them to do a little night fishing or is there more sinister bait at the end of his hook? Who are they and why are they at the cabin, and whose drawing with the face missing is hidden under the bed and why is her dress still in the cabin? No clue.
“I promised myself I would only bring one woman here,” Jackman’s character tells one of the women. “The woman I wanted to spend my life with. The woman I wanted to be with forever. She would come here, and it would be sacred. It would be something I had only shared with her and her alone.”
OK, so is the woman with her face scratched out that “sacred” choice and none of these others can fill her shoes? Is this a line which he uses to gain the confidence of a long stream of woman he captures in his net? Is one of them the ideal woman before her face is scratched out of the photo? Do they all only exist in his imagination? Did he kill one or more of them and now he’s is reeling in his next catch? Did his uncle do the killing? Is this some sort of purgatory?
No clue, but it certainly was 80 minutes of confusion for my brain, despite Jackman’s solid performance and fish-gutting skills. The able design team is Scenic Design by Ultz, Costume Design by Esosa, Lighting Design by Charles Balfour; Sound Design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, music by Stephen Warbeck.
In an attempt to offer you some insight to the play and its meaning, I offer you the description from the show’s page:
“On a moonless evening, a man brings his new girlfriend to a remote cabin for a night of trout-fishing. But before the night is over, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems… and as memory collides with desire, the truth becomes the most elusive catch of all.”
In addition, here the few notes I scribbled on my reporter’s pad: “
- What the heck did that mean?” (The Woman had just read a poem by Yeats.)
- · “Isn’t that a different woman?”
- · “He just said he loved her while gutting a fish.”
- · “Who the heck is buried out at the abandoned house?”
- · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
- · “Isn’t that the same water spigot they used for The Miracle Worker and Godspell at this theater?
- · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
OK, now you write the review…. Press agents asked us not to reveal the ending. No problem since I didn’t get that either.
The best part of the night came after the curtain when Jackman enticed members of the audience to bid on the T-shirt he was wearing to raise funds for Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDs. The quite personable actor ended up with two parties paying $7,000 each for the privilege of having their pictures taken with him backstage. He also brought in the most money – almost $500,000 – of all the Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows competing in this year’s Gypsy competition for the cause.
That’s the kind of star power that is keeping The River packing the house with premium tickets selling as high as $275 each. It sure isn’t the plot.
The River runs (nice pun) through Feb. 8 at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Perfromances: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $35-$175; http://www.theriveronbroadway.com/
Christians might also like to know:
-- The show posts a MATURE warning
-- God's name taken in vain