The idea of memory is at the heart of Walking Shadow’s The River, a play by Jez Butterworth, directed by Amy Rummenie, and staged by Walking Shadow Theatre Company. It’s an eerie tale and a borderline ghost story that also feels firmly grounded in a familiar reality.
Paneling adorns the stage; a small wooden table sits in the center, a fully stocked kitchen and cooler fill up space, and the reading nook on stage left is cozy as they come. It’s a familiar scene to cabin-loving Minnesotans. The River could almost be an ode to cabin life: there is trout fishing, and nature is talked about as poetry. This gives the entire show a sense of familiarity that makes it all the more profound.
The plot concerns the main character of The Man (Andrew Erskine Wheeler) as he brings his girlfriend The Woman (Emily Grodzik) to his family’s cabin. As the sun sets, there is much that happens in this cabin—things that will happen and have already happened, as time begins to fold into itself. This eeriness might be jarring in the early going, but impeccable acting and strong directing truly make The River feel human even in its strangest moments.
There is a sense of quietness and stillness to every aspect of the show, from the acting to impeccable sound design by Katharine Horowitz. The show excels in its intimacy. Many plays strive for a sense of realism but The River is one of the few that succeeds in feeling, truly, like paging through at an old photo album. And it’s just as bittersweet as old photographs.
Wheeler is superb, a light piercing the foggy night into which the audience is thrust. His quietest moments onstage by himself, as well as his boldest monologues, are equally riveting. Grodzik and her counterpart The Other Woman (Elizabeth Efteland) are perfectly cast. Grodzik’s performance is thoughtful and bubbly, while Efteland’s sarcasm and wit define her work. The two manage to create contrasting characters while never sharing the stage.
The greatest attribute of The River is it’s a somber conjuring to the idea of memory and thoughts of the bygone past. Photographs and faded memories seem to collapse on each other throughout the evening. It’s a show that doesn’t frighten, but evokes the most precious memories of your past, your childhood, of lost loves. And it does so in a winning, haunting fashion.
by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Amy Rummenie
When: Today through September 3-17; tickets
Where: Open Eye Theatre, 506 E 24th St, Minneapolis
Featuring: Andrew Erskine Wheeler, Emily Grodzik, and Elizabeth Efteland