Jez Butterworth’s new play The River will open on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on November 16, 2014 starring Hugh Jackman. Butterworth’s newest work showcases Jackman as “The Man” in this three person drama that highlights passion and loss of love.
Jackman is remarkably subtle, compared to his roles as Wolverine in X-Men and Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, and brings passionate nuance to a challenging script. I have always been very critical of Mr. Jackman’s previous work so I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed his performance as much as I did. Mr. Butterworth’s script is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in that it tackles large, existential topics with quiet conversation and simple staging.
The play begins with Jackman’s character bringing his new girlfriend to his favorite place, a cabin in the woods where he goes night fishing. The entire play takes place inside the cabin and is a perfectly minimalistic set design by Ultz. The action is surrealistic and takes the audience on a wild journey through time, alternating continually throughout the play’s short 85 minute run. The twists and turns continue throughout and sometimes leave the audience breathless. I think this is the hardest play I’ve ever reviewed because the show is short enough that to reveal too much would ruin the plot twists, but I cannot accurately describe the plot without giving it all away. I’m sure that Mr. Butterworth was fully aware of the ambiguity of the piece as he was writing and he was brilliant to leave it to interpretation.
The buzz in the lobby following the show was palpable. The audience was totally immersed in the story and continued discussing it following the show. The questions that Mr. Butterworth presents vastly outnumber the answers and that is why this piece works. Butterworth muses “What is love?,” “How long does it last?,” “Can it be replicated?,” “Is it worth replicating?” The River has been billed as a dark thriller but it is that and so much more. It deals with the darkness of our hearts and souls much more than the darkness in the woods and rivers.
Those theatregoers looking for an escape from reality and the problems of their lives will not find that in Jez Butterworth’s The River, instead, you will find a slap of reality as Hugh Jackman and his fellow cast mates wallow in the darkness of their hearts and allow it to overcome them. Mr. Jackman’s brilliant performance is what will draw audiences, as it should, and will definitely find him in the running for the Tony Award come June.