by Mark G. Auerbach
Theaterworks has opened its new season with Jez Butterworth’s recent Broadway hit, The River, staged by the theatre’s Artistic Director, Rob Ruggiero, who spent the summer staging well-received productions of Oliver! at Goodspeed, Gypsy at The Muny, and Evita at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, gave a curtain speech detailing some of the renovations planned for TheaterWorks this season–new seats, new bathrooms, and elevators among them, which brought cheers from the faithful audience.
Jez Butterworth captured the American theatre’s attention, when his comedy Jerusalem with Mark Rylance as star, crossed the Atlantic from London to great success. The River played a limited run on Broadway during the 2014-15 season, after a staging at London’s Royal Court, Hugh Jackman starred in the Broadway production. Butterworth’s latest, The Ferryman, arrived on Broadway last week.
The River is a small play with an air of mystery. A man brings a woman to his remote fishing cabin along a river. She disappears, replaced by another woman. As the plot unfolds, one wonders whether the women are current and former lovers, imaginary lovers, or fantasy lovers. The mystery ends with a surprise. In TheaterWorks production, beautifully staged by Rob Ruggiero, and set on one of the best designed stages in TheaterWorks recent history, I felt like the production far-outshined the material, but the audience around me was paying rapt attention. Brian Prather’s fishing cottage set is reminiscent of those New England summer cottages with dark aging wood, simple furniture, and bare essentials–something familiar to those who frequent the rivers and lakes in the area. John Lasiter’s lighting, a mix of shadows an candlelight are appropriately rustic. Ruggiero has The Man gutting, prepping, and cooking a fresh-caught sea trout onstage, a culinary ballet amongst of a duet of words and images.
Billy Carter is commanding as The Man. I can understand Hugh Jackman wanting to take on the part. Andrea Goss and Jasmine Batchelor are both effective as his women, carbon copies of each other, yet definitely different.
I have never been disappointed in a TheaterWorks production, and The River will best be remembered for its staging, design, and performances. Like a river with its ebbs and flows, The River explores the pace and fluidity of love with mysterious airs.
TheaterWorks presents The River by Jez Butterworth. Directed by Rob Ruggieroi…Set design by Brian Prather. Costume design by Tricia Barsamian. Lighting design by John Lasiter.. Sound design by Frederick Kennedy.. Cast: Billy Carter, Andrea Goss, and Jasmine Batchelor Through November 12.. TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT. For tickets: 860-527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB.