by Lynn on November 6, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 982 Danforth Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Ted Dykstra
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Ming Wong
Sound by Creighton Doane
Cast: David Ferry
Dani Kind
Jane Spidell

A shimmering, subtle play and production that seduces you like a spider to a fly and you are caught in its web of mystery before you know it.

The Story. A man invites his girlfriend (The Woman) to his remote fishing cabin to go night fishing for the elusive sea trout. It’s the night before the new moon which means there is no moon, and it’s the perfect time for fishing for the sea trout. It happens once a year and this night is it. She wants to read her book because it began to be good. He’s insistent and enthusiastic. She goes with him. Something goes wrong. He loses her in the dark. She gets lost. He’s frantic. The police are called but then she returns. It’s not The Woman. It’s The Other Woman. And things spiral from there.

The Production. Designer, Steve Lucas has designed a rustic cabin. The play is set in the kitchen; pine table set at an angle, two chairs, another chair stage left, behind which is a door to outside. There is a cot just down from the door. Off right is a door to the bedroom. The Woman delicately straightens the table from its angle. She notices the sunset and insists The Man come and see it. He is quickly checking his gear, urging her to get dressed so they can go fishing. He has been trying to teach her to fly fish for this very night. He has seen the sunset and they are all the same. She insists he describe it. He does, in the most delicate of poetic language.

In the next scene The Man is frantic. He has lost her in the dark. He calls the police and says he called out to her but she’s disappeared in the dark He describes her. My eyebrows knit. It’s not the description of The Woman we saw. Then she appears. It’s The Other Woman, and does fit the description—thirty and slim. The first woman is older, closer to the age of The Man, and she’s fleshier. The Man says to The Other Woman that he called the police he was so frantic. They were going to send a helicopter to look for her. My eye-brows knit again. That’s not the conversation (or half of it) that we hear.

Playwright Jez Butterworth makes you listen very hard because nothing is what it seems. Lies appear effortlessly from every character, innocuously, sometimes to protect the other person, but still lies. Trying to find the truth is like trying to catch fish with your bare hands.

Where is the truth? In director Ted Dykstra’s beautifully modulated, subtle production, the truth is anywhere you think it is. Are those women real? Are they the same woman even though they don’t look the same? Is Butterworth equating these elusive women with the fish that The Man is determined to catch on this one night, or are the women like the fish that got away? Dykstra’s even hand in his direction has us watching the ping-pong of ideas and language from The Man to the two women at separate times, as we try and decide where the truth is.

While the story is elusive, the production is rooted in realism. A beautiful sea trout is caught but not by The Man. He guts it right in front of us; cuts off the head and tail and throws the stuff in the garbage. Then he puts the fish on a baking tray, scores the fish, seasons it, sloshes oil and wine on it; prepares onions and carrots; puts foil around the whole thing and puts it in the oven. (I don’t see him pre-heat the oven—but this is a quibble). Then by the miracle of theatre, the finished dish is done in mere minutes. The Man serves The Woman the perfectly cooked fish and they both dig in. It smells delicious.

Depending on where you sit in the small Coal Mine Theatre, you can be no more than a foot away from the action. The concentration of the actors never wavers. As The Man, David Ferry is both macho and sensitive. He takes Butterworth’s elegant dialogue about fishing and the thrill and shock of catching the sea trout, and conveys it with an almost child-like innocent enthusiasm. But then he can talk about the beauty of the sunset as a man with a poetic heart.

As The Woman, Jane Spidell is a women with her own secrets. She is womanly, confident in that relationship to be bossy but knows how to play The Man. As The Other Woman, Dani Kind has her own kind of allure. She is very cool when she might be found out in her own lies and adds a tease with a beautifully placed sense of humour.

Comment. Jez Butterworth’s play is as elusive and mystical as a story of the prized fish that got away. The language is so vivid yet poetical. The beauty of The River is that it’s not a typical “the fish that got away” story. Butterworth always adds a twist to his work; whether it’s the explosive Jerusalem or Mojo. With The River The Coal Mine Theatre has presented another gem of a production.

Presented by The Coal Mine Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 3, 2015.
Closes: Nov. 22, 2015.
Cast: 3, 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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