|Photo: Sara Krulwich|
Yeats' "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" is sung off-stage at the beginning of the play, and recurs several times throughout the eighty minute running time. It's also printed and inserted into the playbill. Seeing a play probably shouldn't come with homework, but I think it would be wise to give the poem a glance before the action starts. Butterworth is not just a playwright who rejects easy answers; at times, you may not even be sure what questions are being asked. This can be frustrating (as it was, for me, with Jerusalem--which, I should say, is one of his more accessible works), but it can also be rewarding, as it is here. Playwrights and artists shouldn't be afraid to make people work a bit for their entertainment, if the result is worth it. And with that, I feel I shouldn't say anything more specific about the plot, lest I spoil anyone's experience.
A play as small and as strange as The River probably wouldn't make it to Broadway in a commercial production were it not for the involvement of a major boldface name, and this production certainly has that in the form of Hugh Jackman. Those only familiar with Jackman from the two extremes of his career--his X-Men persona and his jovial song-and-dance-man schtick--will likely be surprised by the gritty, committed performance he delivers here. As with Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man, Jackman brings all the power and presence of a great star, yet he never feels too big for the room. He deftly plays off the energy of his two co-stars, Cush Jumbo and Laura Donnelly, who are both superb in their Broadway debuts.
I also want to take a moment and thank the producers of The River for making a large number of tickets available at a reasonable price. For every performance, a block of tickets has been set aside to be sold, in advance, for $35. These tickets are sold on a week-to-week basis, available at the box office beginning every Monday morning at 10. A second block of $35 seats is then sold, day-of, at the box office. (Information on these discounted seats can be found at theriveronbroadway.com). And the first two rows of the small theatre are sold in advance for $95, which, while higher than $35, is significantly lower than the top ticket price of $175. Commercial theatre is a business, of course, but it's a good business practice to recognize that not everyone can afford top price, and to offer alternatives. And it seems to have paid off, with this production recouping a $3 million advance in just seven weeks. To all involved, I say bravi, and thanks.
[Fifth row, audience right. Access tickets, $35.]