Feeling lost is a very human component to our existence here on earth. Coal Mine Theatre’s production of The River, written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Ted Dykstra, really helped me remember the poetry in not only human struggle, but also human imperfection. Digging deeper than ever and pulling out truth in the buried ghosts of our past, this performance proved to be a truly profound portrait of the human condition.
Walking into the space, the first thing I noticed, was the set. Now although this may be true to most productions that I have seen in the past, I place emphasis on this one as I literally had to walk through the set itself to find my seat in the cramped theatre. The seating arrangement definitely offered its ups and downs, restricting certain audience members at times from sharing in moments with certain characters. That being said,overall, the tight storefront space still offered a very warm environment for the audience to share with the actors, making every subtle gesture glow with emphasis.
The show itself began with a blackout on stage and the sound of a river running, further echoing the title of the show through the nature-driven soundscape.
As the show opened up in a warm little cabin, in what was presumably Canada’s great white north, we were introduced to two characters, A Man and A Woman. The show continued as their relationship developed and we learned more and more about them and the cabin they were occupying.
The narrative itself, built on a foundation of ambiguity, unraveled as the show went on. The entire show almost seemed like an allegory of itself, which is what I found so engaging.
From the moment I saw each character on stage, I was already given a general idea of who they were through their body language, though I’d say the part that particularly struck me by the very end was David Ferry's portrayal of The Man. Ferry’s performance created such an intricate storm of assumptions that by the end I was left questioning the people in my own life. The journey that I was taken through with his character left a seed in my head that later blossomed into further flavours on the subway ride home.
All in all, I’d say that the experience really did provide me with a little slice of comforting seclusion in the heart of Toronto’s busy Danforth. Offering different treasures that penetrated every one of the five senses, including a fresh cooked trout on stage, this production most definitely catered to the live experience while still maintaining a truly intimate environment.
The Canadian premiere of The River runs until Nov. 22 at The Coal Mine Theatre's temporary location (982 Danforth Ave.). For more information visit http://www.coalminetheatre.com/.