Monday, November 17, 2014

The River Floods Onto Broadway

Last night, a new play, The River, opened on Broadway.  The reviews are in and are decidedly mixed.  Reviewers seemed to love the design elements, the direction, and Hugh Jackman's performance.  The writing, however, was not so warmly received.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times said, "I think it's safe to say that the effectiveness of The River depends on our awareness that we are physically in the room -- even held captive -- with the tense people onstage.  The small Circle in the Square, with its three-sided stage, contributes to this feeling.  So does the expert, immersive lighting and sound design … with [its] prettily creepy music."

Marilyn Stasio of Variety Magazine said, "the open-sided setting designed by Ultz depicts the rustic cabin where a character designated The Man (Jackman) has taken a character designated The Woman (Cush Jumbo) for a romantic night of trout fishing.  The lighting … is subtly seductive, and the ever inventive sound maven Ian Dickinson, who also did the fancy work on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Jerusalem has invented a symphony of provocative night sounds that sustains the mood of the play from beginning to end, even when the human voices start to grate on the ear.

Of Mr. Jackman's performance, Mr. Brantley said, "Mr. Jackman conveys an impression of mightily self-contained silence, even when he's talking like Wordsworth on a bender.  And in banking his fires so compellingly, he ascends with assurance to a new level as a stage actor."

The writing, however, was not so highly praised.  Marilyn Stasio said, "Aside from the charismatic star's intense performance as a lovesick fisherman who is given to poetic laments over the fish (and the woman) who slipped away from him, just about everything else about Jez Buttersorth's strange chamber piece, The River, is a downer."  Mr. Brantley added, after highly praising Mr. Jackman's performance, "I make no comparable claims* for Mr. Butterworth's short and elliptical play, previously staged at the Royal Court Theater and his first since the mighty Jerusalem K.O.'d New York in 2011.  That heaving portrait of a belief-starved Britain was an audacious symphony of words, ideas, and characters you hated to love.  The River is conducted in a more minor key [than was his previous play], and is also a more minor effort."

All in all, a strong production of a mediocre play.

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