NY Theater Review Sandi Durell
One would think upon entering the intimate Circle in the Square Theatre, with comfortable three-sided seating, that the rustic cabin layed out in the center speaks to relaxation (design by Ultz). Even the low-key fisherman-clad Hugh Jackman as ‘The Man” (I’m always a bit put off when actors don’t have actual names) conjured up a quiet weekend of fishing. It seemed ordinary but then we’re dealing with Jez Butterworth’s latest dramatic offering. And like “Jerusalem,” we’re challenged with love, desire, seduction and mysterious secrets lurking in the shadows or here, in the river.
Jackman is more than an enthusiastic fisherman yearning for the big catch, in this case sea trout, as he sensuously describes the electricity that runs through him when he finally hooks the big one. And there are two fine women, Cush Jumbo – The Woman, and Laura Donnelly – The Other Woman, who come and go, alternating, and picking up where one left off as visiting weekend lovers with whom he shares his inner most thoughts and feelings when it revolves around fishing and his passion for poetry. You see he learned the sport from his Dad as a child, eloquently explaining how the first fish he ever caught got away.
So is he living in an allegorical dream-like world hoping to catch the right woman but, this time, make sure she doesn’t get away? Is he fishing for love or just the love of fishing? At any rate, we’re treated to a very buff-looking Hugh Jackman as Chef cooking up a real fish dinner, guting the fish (a bit worrisome when he pulled out that big knife), slicing and dicing an onion, fennel in astonishing detail as he and The Woman share a glass of wine and a taste.
All the while, we wait in this suspenseful game of transcendental intimacy for something to happen, listening to heady monologues about fish, sex – hearing rushing water (sound Ian Dickinson of the Autograph team) and quiet singing by The Woman, and amused by the outright bizarreness of Butterworth’s unique writing, made more eerie by his longtime collaborating director Ian Rickson.
It’s not so difficult to spend 85 minutes watching the film star of Wolverine fame, Hugh Jackman, going through the paces, in hip boots and fisherman’s gear, but what’s he really angling for?
This hook, line and sinker should prove to be a good Thanksgiving Dinner topic of conversation.
PS: The evening I attended, Jackman and the cast made the annual plea for contributions to Equity Fights Aids and offered up his T-shirt and a walk/talk backstage with the highest bidder. Before he could begin the bidding, someone raised their hand and shouted $10,000. Talk about a nice catch!
“The River” (The Royal Court Threater Production)1633 Broadway, at 50th Street, 212-239-6200, www.theriveronbroadway.com extended thru February 8th.