Theater Review: THE RIVER (BoHo Theatre in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 16, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Only 65 minutes long, British playwright Jez Butterworth’s spell-casting The River manages, as few plays have, to simulate a dream on stage. Heraclitus said that life was like a river because we never step into the same stream twice. Likewise this one-act’s obsessive quest for certainty in love amid the seemingly random repetition of remembrance gives force to fluidity. Beautifully staged by Jerrell L. Henderson for BoHo Theatre, the three-person drama retains its mysteries throughout, evasions that may madden theatergoers seeking explanation more than revelation.

The time is the night of an August new moon, the locale a family cabin where Sean (called The Man in the program and played by Joe Lino) has gone to fly-fish as a boy and to entertain women as a man.

Interchangeable guests, The Woman (Christina Gorman) and The Other Woman (Chelsee Carter) visit him, seeking their own pantheistic pleasures in robins, sunsets and evening stars, smoking pot, or sharing lore about tackle bait, lures, rods and reels. He tells them of a spot where the river plunges and the hardier male trout make their annual run to spawn where they were born. He shares a story of the first fish he caught (and released). As the women serve food, change their minds or their confessions, and register their doubts about his fidelity, they also wonder about a picture of a woman in red whose face has been scratched out (the only hint that a crime might have happened here, or maybe it’s just a purging).

The elliptical and cryptic dialogue denies us any easy answers in this seemingly perpetual date. We’re left with a sense of the simultaneity of passion, suggested by how easily one woman morphs into the other as memory likes to have it.

This is not Isaac Walton’s 17th-century masterwork The Complete Angler, but fishing is much more than a metaphor here. Akin to sex, the sport holds this dream together, as palpable as the poem by W.B. Yeats that, beautifully sung by the women, ends Butterworth’s very elusive story.

Lino, Gorman, and Carter fully commit themselves to their three mutable personae. Coyly suggesting so much déjà vu, they’re slippery souls, what with their shape-shifting stories and unfinished business. Nothing is fixed in this sly and ultimately immersive one-act. It may well be dreamed differently by each observer and that’s praise enough for the play.

photos by Austin Oie

The River
BoHo Theatre
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on May 5, 2019
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit BoHo Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki Smith July 1, 2019 at 4:54 pm

You did it. A review as haunting as the script.


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