Hugh Jackman deserves a lot of credit for returning to the New York stage in “The River,” a new work by the little-known English playwright Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem"), considering that most major film stars come to Broadway in revivals of fail-proof, classic dramas (i.e. Denzel Washington in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Scarlett Johansson in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”).

“The River” is, instead, a quiet, elusive drama with little mainstream appeal.

Here, Jackman plays a seductive but aloof fisherman who brings his dates to a secluded riverside cabin, where he regales them with details about trout as he literally guts a fish. The concept and central mystery behind the play is that the woman at his side keeps changing, instantly and without explanation.

Directed by Ian Rickson, Jackman and his female companions combine sex appeal with signs of sadness and regret.

While the 85-minute play does offer interesting observations on relationships, mystery and lyrical language, it has a dearth of action. Although there is a payoff at the end, it is hardly worth the wait.

Circle in the Square, though relatively small for a Broadway space, is still too large for a delicate piece like this to be dramatically effective.

 

Circle in the Square; through Jan 25; theriveronbroadway.com?