Review: The River (Coal Mine Theatre)

photo of David Ferry by Michael Cooper

Coal Mine Theatre’s The River is “transporting”, on stage in Toronto

As I have heard from my actor, producer, and director friends, opening night of a live production can be a nervous mess. With the Coal Mine Theatre’s production of The River, at their temporary location at 982 Danforth St., nerves only made an appearance from the emotionally fraught characters in what was a professional, polished and very tense show.

When I took my seat I felt immediately transported to a quaint cabin in the woods, with coastal music floating through the small space, and semi-theatre-in-the-round set up, making the experience that much more visceral. All I knew of the story was that a man, or in this case The Man, played by David Ferry, brings his girlfriend to his uncle’s cabin for a vacation. At first, his girlfriend is The Woman (Jane Spidell), and then in the “what is going on here?” moment, The Other Woman (Dani Kind) emerges on stage with Ferry not missing a beat.

I give the highest of marks to David Ferry. Without spoiling the plot, Ferry gave us an emotional, balanced, and engaging performance. In playing against two different characters, one would expect an actor to waver based on who he or she was playing against, however, with the specifics of Jez Butterworth’s script this was not the case, and Ferry was strong throughout. His chemistry with both Woman characters was palpable, giving each as much of himself as he gave the audience, which left me — and I assume the rest of the audience due to the encore –- feeling as emotionally drained as his character, yet still thoroughly entertained.

Jane Spidell’s transitions from gleeful to angry to insecure to disappointed, mostly occur off-stage, and it is as though we are greeted with a new character in a familiar shell each time. It is with these transitions that the plot twists occur and Spidell excels with each emotional turn, giving the audience the sense of the severity of what has occurred and what is occurring. This is not to say that Spidell’s The Woman is running around fraught with sentiment. Many of the lighter moments in the show come from Spidell and Ferry knowing the timing and meter of their scenes and executing with comedic precision.

While Spidell provides the emotional transitions of the plot, Dani Kind’s The Other Woman, gives us the reason behind these transitions. Kind is not just a plot device, however, as her character shares one of the more poignant scenes with Ferry, revealing how deep his frailty runs. Kind handles this scene with such skill, hearing Ferry words, but then giving him stronger and truer ones in return. It was here that I forgot I was reviewing this show and felt I was inside this country cabin with these characters, feeling along with them.

Though Spidell and Kind never directly interact I did feel they shared scenes in a way. One would pick up where the other left off with Ferry, with neither missing a beat when it was her turn to spend time in the cabin.

Director Ted Dykstra also deserves mention in how he placed his actors for specific scenes. With the way the venue is set up and space at a premium, Dykstra positioned his actors in a way to give each the spotlight when it mattered most. This helped highlight the importance of that particular part of the scene and give the audience a focal point.

As I have said, I felt as though I was transported to this cabin by The River and in addition to the actors’ performances, set and lighting designer Steve Lucas deserves a nod for this. He mastered the space, and in conjunction with sound designer Creighton Doane, helped provide the immersive and eerie setting.

Included in the program notes, put together by co-producer Diana Bentley, is a quotation by The River’s writer Jez Butterworth. In it he says that “[theatres are] places where…you hope to get…[a] physical, visceral response that you can’t fully explain but that your body can,” and I can say that perfectly describes my experience with this show. I felt it and at times I was lost in that feeling in a very good way.

For a night “away” with the company of strangers – in fact that also somewhat describes The River itself – head out to 982 Danforth and experience the cabin in the woods.


  • The River is playing until November 22nd at 982 Danforth Ave.
  • Shows runs Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 pm
  • Tickets are $35 and are available online. Rush tickets can be purchased for $25, ten minutes prior to curtain but are subject to availability and are cash only with no reservations.

Photo of David Ferry by Michael Cooper