Playwright Jez Butterworth won the 2019 Best Play Tony Award for The Ferryman, but it’s tough to see that coming in The River. You could use words like “nonlinear,” or “elliptical,” or “opaque” to describe Butterworth’s 65-minute play. Calling the BoHo Theatre production meaningless is more accurate. Well, perhaps not entirely meaningless. Directed by Jerrell L. Henderson, the drama’s myriad monologues about wild salmon and the joys of fishing are mildly educational for those looking to learn about the various lures used in the solitary sport. The plot—such as it is—centers on Man (Joe Lino), Woman (Christina Gorman), and Other Woman (Chelsee Carter). Man is religiously zealous about fly-fishing. He has a remote cabin where he hosts (not at the same time) Woman and Other Woman for a fishing getaway. The women alternate through Butterworth’s two-person scenes. It’s unclear whether they’re incarnations of the same woman, two completely separate people, or ghosts of fishing trips past.
Whatever the case, the dialogue is packed with murky symbolism and heightened, affected language about salmon. The latter plays like a parody of Words-worth or Thoreau. The former involves a mysterious scarlet dress and, perhaps, the fish themselves. None of it—not the identities of the women or the freighted symbolism—matters because the script goes nowhere. There is only fishing and talking about fishing and two interchangeable women stuck in a script that absolutely flunks the Bechdel test. The cabin is adequately rendered by set designer Eric Luchen. The all-important prop fish calls to mind those mounted trout that sing “Happy Birthday.” That’s worth a laugh. Which is about all you’ll get out of The River. v