Adapted by Myra Platt, from the novel of the same title by the well-regarded Oregon writer and conservationist David James Duncan, "The River Why" at Seattle's Book-It is an entertaining if small-scoped growing-up tale.
Gus, the likable young protagonist in the new Book-It Repertory Theatre piece “The River Why,” tells us he would love to spend every waking hour fly-fishing.
“I care for nothing but rivers, lakes and their denizens,” he confides. And man, does he mean it.
Adapted by Myra Platt, from the novel of the same title by the well-regarded Oregon writer and conservationist David James Duncan, “The River Why” is an entertaining if small-scoped growing-up tale, a theme and variations.
You might think of it as Zen and the art of angling, drawn from the perspective of a teenage boy (appealingly played by Jeffrey Frieders) whose dreams, desires and family history are all bound up in the wooing and catching of aquatic vertebrates.
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Gus’s tweedy British father, Henning Hale Orviston (played with panache by Mark Chamberlin) worships at the altar of 17th-century writer Izaak Walton (author of that fishing bible, “The Compleat Angler”) and expounds on the virtues of Glenfiddich whiskey and big-mouthed bass.
His wife, Carolina (Lisa Carswell), mother of Gus and his little brother, Bill Bob (Sam Campbell), is a fishing freak, too. But in most respects, this rifle-toting, no-nonsense country gal is the opposite of her foppish husband.
Worn down by his parents’ endless spats about whether to bait or not to bait, shoot or ponder, no wonder Gus seeks the peace and solitude of a remote cabin along a wild river brimming with fish, after his Portland high-school graduation.
Gus’s sojourn there is often comical. Without much human interaction, he takes to talking to his rod (named, yup, Rodney), catches enough fish to stock a large lake and asks himself big questions about the meaning of existence.
In one of the most enjoyable episodes, he realizes how important human companionship is after catching sight of and falling madly for pretty young Eddy (fetching Erika Eie), — who may just be a better fly fisher than Gus is. His punch-drunk, tongue-tied attempts to connect with Eddy are adroitly, humorously handled by Frieders.
Staged by Platt on a nifty set by Carey Wong dominated by a sparkling, translucent plastic stream, “The River Why” can be a charmer, with a sense of whimsy in the vein of Richard Brautigan and other literary, nature-loving West Coasters.
But if one doesn’t share the characters’ fishing fetish, all the fuss and bother about it can get tedious, and limited in metaphorical import. And the strident scenes of domestic dysfunction don’t offer enough insight into the opposite-attracting marriage of Gus’ parents, or its psychic impact on their son.
Of course if you, like Gus, could happily spend 16 hours a day with rod and reel in hand, “The River Why” is not to be missed. Who knows when another play devoted to this venerable pastime will bob up?
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org