By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
A fly fisherman (Andrew William Smith) invites his girlfriend (Daina Michelle Griffith) to his cabin for a getaway, but memories of his previous relationship with another woman (Siovhan Christensen) colors the romantic weekend in Jez Butterworth’s “The River.”
The play cuts back in forth through time between two memorable weekends; one weekend with Christensen’s character, and another one with Griffith’s character. None of the characters are named. It’s even hard to tell if Christensen plays a metaphysical ghost or just a metaphorical one. It’s also only assumed that Christensen’s character dated the fisherman before Griffith’s character, but there’s no clear timeline. Only a red dress marks the events, but even its chronological origin is thrown into question.
“The River” is a treatise on fly fishing.
Side note: When Roman Claudius Aelianus saw Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River he described the practice poetically, writing, “They have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft. . . . They fasten red wool. . . round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.”
“The River” is also a Rubik’s Cube of relationships, with lots of great character moments.
At the center of the story is a prize, a memento from the fisherman’s boyhood, a stone shaped heart. The symbolic meaning is a bit on-the-nose.
More than anything,”The River” is superbly written and expertly cast.
Smith makes his Pittsburgh debut in the play. He enters the local scene on a gloriously high note, playing opposite two of our town’s best female actors, Christensen and Griffith.
Christensen’s character starts out as whimsical and light, but moves to darker places effortlessly. Griffith’s character is a bit more neurotic. She is worried about upsetting our stalwart fisherman. The man’s relationship with each woman is vastly different, yet similarities pop up in surprising areas. They are both amazing.
Everyone is emotionally eviscerated. One poor trout is physically eviscerated. It’s not a scene for the squeamish.
Director Adil Mansoor moves things along and a brisk pace. Not one minute of the 75 minute show is wasted. He manages to get some honest character moments out of his actors.
As with any Quantum Theatre production, the location is a character onto itself. The show is performed in Aspinwall Park, adjacent to the Allegheny River. Britton Mauk’s set marvelously makes use of the indoor location. It’s a rustic cabin, separated into two large puzzle pieces with a gully of water running through it.
Butterworth’s language is lyrical, and it’s woven with poetry. Like all great art, it is open to interpretation. It’s a beautiful jigsaw, one that is never fully assembled. But it’s so enjoyable to watch some big pieces fall into place. “The River” is a wonderful night out on the water.
“The River” runs to October 30 at the Aspinwall Riverfront Park, 285 River Avenue, Aspinwall, PA 15215. For more information, click here.