Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The River
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of The Drowsy Chaperone and Evita

Jasmine Batchelor and Billy Carter
Photo by Lanny Nagler
The River, at TheaterWorks in Hartford through November 11th, is beautiful, mystical and more than a trifle unsettling. It is penned by Jez Butterworth, whose much acclaimed work, The Ferryman, is in previews on Broadway. Rob Ruggiero wisely directs The River with varied pacing. Its unhurried sequences are frequently its best, and Ruggiero makes certain not to minimize Butterworth's specific verse-like dialogue.

The Man (Billy Carter) owns a well-worn, inviting cabin situated so that he can indulge in his primary life passion: fishing. Through Butterworth's lyrical language, The Man speaks with joy and awe of catching trout. He skillfully slices through a fish, midway during the production, then cooks it on a nearby stove.

The Woman (Andrea Goss), seemingly The Man's girlfriend, appears, then she leaves. She walks to the back of the stage and one expects her to return. But the one who arrives is The Other Woman (Jasmine Batchelor). She is outgoing, gregarious and, as was her predecessor, absolutely delighted to be on the scene. It is she who has caught the fish which The Man summarily prepares (during an interlude when he is by himself and listening to gentle classical music) for a meal. Next, The Other Woman departs. The pattern continues as either of the young women interacts, and not superficially, with The Man. He cares for both, or so it seems, and certainly is authentic with conversation.

On the other hand, this all gets a bit spooky. The poetry induced by the moon and the trappings of the cabin (multiple candles, rustic yet most usable wooden chairs and table) yields to the mystery of this piece. It becomes impossible not to wonder about The Man's motives. He treats each of the women with care that borders upon reverence. Still, the tension increases and, for the audience, there are questions regarding the pieces of this puzzle.

The Woman might have been content to stay by herself and further immerse herself in Virginia Woolf's work. The Man likes reading a fishing poem to her. The Other Woman, wearing at one point a fetching scarlet dress, plays up to him. The actresses are splendidly disciplined and most different in look and persona. The cumulative effect is enigmatic and haunting as well.

TheaterWorks' presentation is richly detailed. Both Carter, as The Man, and Goss, as The Woman, take care not to over-express lines. Batchelor's The Other Woman is given more liberty to animate. Hers is, by far, the most extroverted of the three characters. The cabin, integral, has its own distinctive aura. It is, visually, a warm and friendly place: saggy cot, snow shoes, and other recognizable out-in-the-woods furnishings. The River, during its first moments, is uncorrupted and candid—for the very first component of its eighty minute running time.

Brian Prather's set design for the cozy confines is spot on. John Lasiter provides dim lighting as the interior of the cabin is dark and one feels nighttime's presence. During moments when The Man is by himself, his heightened isolation is nearly transfixing. Billy Carter, in a masterfully controlled performance, dominates; his demeanor is one of strength and he relates, with what appears to be genuine honesty, to each of the women. A cynical observer might think otherwise. Enough said.

The River offers the opportunity for multiple interpretations. One can view it literally for what transpires or spin in another direction. Who, really, is The Man?

The River, through November 11, 2018, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit

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