There Are Fish In 'The River' At TheaterWorks, But We Can't Tell You Much More

TheaterWorks’ drama “The River” is shrouded in mystery.

‘I can’t say too much,” the play’s star Billy Carter says, regretfully. “...There are elements of a ghost story and a gothic thriller in it.”

The play, at TheaterWorks through Nov. 11, is essentially a romance with a mystery at its core, written by Jez Butterworth, the acclaimed English playwright whose other works include the hit drama “Jerusalem” and whose latest play “The Ferryman” is now playing on Broadway.

Carter is not alone is keeping the secrets of “The River.” Reviews of previous productions of this 2012 drama describe it with purposely vague terms such as “eerie,” “dark,” “tense,” and “a sleight-of-hand puzzle.”

You won’t get any clues from the names of the three characters in “The River”: They are identified only as The Man, The Woman and The Other Woman.

What Carter can reveal, however, is that the script requires him to gut a trout onstage.

“I’m hopeless at it,” Carter admits. “I never caught a fish in my life. We’re getting a professional in to teach me, because it’s such a big part of the play. Fishing is a massive part of it. The Man poeticizes it, and that leads into our play. You can say it’s about how we catch one another, and what we are trying to catch.”

Director Rob Ruggiero says that since the action takes place at a remote fishing cabin, real flowing water “had to be” part of the scenic design.

Carter is an accomplished stage and screen actor who has worked with London’s Royal Court, National Theater and Royal Shakespeare Company, the Abbey Theater in Dublin and both off Broadway and on Broadway in New York City. In 2016 he co-starred with Matthew Broderick in Conor McPherson’s psychological ghost story “Shining City” at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre. His TV credits include a slew of British series including “The Fitz,” “I Fought the Law” and “Titanic: Blood and Steel.”

Carter came to New York a decade ago for a Broadway opportunity and ending up staying. Now he regularly travels among the U.S., England and Ireland. “I love meeting new communities of actors. We’re all the same.”

“The River” is the fifth stage play Carter has done this year.

“I did Martin McDonagh’s ‘Hangmen’ in New York, then I was Thomas Stockmann in ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, then I went to the Abbey Theatre to do a new play, then New York again, then this.” Following the Guthrie just a few months ago, TheaterWorks is only his second experience working at a regional theater in America.

He’s never done a Butterworth play before, though “I was at the Royal Court back when his ‘Mojo’ was done there [in 1995]. I’ve admired his work for a long time. I wasn’t even looking for a job when this came up, but I had read it and was riveted. I hate turning down great roles. Jez is such an amazing writer.

“Again, I can’t say too much — there are so many spoilers — but like so many of Butterworth’s plays, it takes place in one location, with the big world outside. It’s quite spiritual. It’s naturalistic, but with weighty, strong language. It’s one of those plays where everything looks fine on the surface, but it keeps stripping the layers away.

“It’s an intense shared experience. It’s a play about affairs of the human heart. That’s all I can really say to you. There are so many twists and turns and surprises.”

The RIVER, by Jez Butterworth, directed by Rob Ruggiero, runs through Nov. 11 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The Oct 13 matinee is at 3:30 p.m., not 2:30 p.m., and is free for students. Oct. 10 is “pay what you can.” Tickets are $45 to $70. 860-527-7838, theaterworkshartford.org.

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