The River by Jez Butterworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
** spoiler alert ** I read this play for my Playwriting class, so read this review with that in mind.
*** READER BEWARE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN! ***
This is another piece that tricks you into thinking it meanders… and then it punches you right in the face as the playwright shows you exactly where this is going. A really lovely and poignant story of love, loss, and patterns of pain that are acknowledged, but somehow remain unbroken. I really appreciate that the playwright felt no need to wrap this up with a blow and slap it upside the cheek with a happy ending. The man’s journey and fate is very real: his search for love, his failures to find it, and his de-evolution into what his uncle used to be… or is this more of a “to be continued” / “he’s still looking for real love” kind of ending?
Not sure, but either way I enjoyed the ambiguity of it all. That in itself was my entry point / human portal into the piece among all the wonderful imagery and mythology. The ambiguousness of life and the weird journey it sends us all on.
What really struck me too were the craft and methods used here: the metaphors with the fish, the Nordic (?) mythology, the poetry and the singing (which I loved), and the emotional realness of the characters. At first blush, the characters feel like Mary Sues and a John Doe, more like avatars for the human experience rather than humans themselves. In some ways this works, and in others, it limits my connection to the characters. In how they represent our emotional and existential struggles, however, the playwright is spot on (imo).
The thing I loved the most about the playwright’s craft here, though, is that he plays around with time, continuity, and emotional temporality in an interesting way. Instead of creating a realistic timeline of events, he instead chooses a variety of focal points: the scarlet dress, the reflection in the bowl, the dive into the freezing water. All stark, striking, and tactile images that really activate, engage, and bewitch the senses. As far as plot goes, The River didn’t do it for me, but as for the other things that comprise a theatrical experience (especially on the emotional level), I was super engaged and touched by the end.
Rock on, READ on,