New York City Theater
"A View From the Bridge"
First the music – ominous, pulsating, insidious. Then the set – grey walls rise to reveal a three-sided enclosure, like a boxing ring. Upstage, a single entrance, as in ancient Greek theater. Then the actors – two longshoremen washing their torsos, a ritual no doubt repeated workday after workday.
This is the beginning of “A View From the Bridge,” the jaw-dropping revival of Arthur Miller’s stinging tragedy. Directed with diamond brilliance by Ivo van Hove, the two-hour, intermissionless, stripped-down rendering finds subtextual layers and poetic values that blow away much of the realism clinging to the work in favor of its mythic core.
“You wouldn’t have known it, but something amusing has just happened,” Alfieri, a lawyer, tells us at the outset. The line is ironic since Alfieri is Chorus to the swelling scene of terrible events that will follow, ending his speech with references to the distant past when some Greek lawyer, “differently dressed, heard the same complaint and sat there as powerless as I, and watched it run its bloody course.” The “complaint,” echoing through centuries, is steeped in betrayal, eroticism, love and justice, as valid now as then.
Basing his play on a true story, Miller adds his own obsessions about the American dream and the necessity for discovering who you are. Eddie Carbone, like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” like John Proctor in “The Crucible,” wants respect and “my own name.”
Eddie, a Brooklyn dock worker living with his wife Beatrice, and niece Catherine, promised Catherine’s deceased mother he would care for her daughter. Now 17 and nubile, Catherine relates to Eddie as if she were still a child instead of someone on the cusp of womanhood.
Into their lives arrive two “submarines,” illegal immigrants, brothers Marco and Rodolpho, fresh off the ship, come to the States to find work. Marco, tough and serious, left his wife and three children in Italy. Rodolpho, startlingly blonde, young, polite, fun-loving is single. Before long he and Catherine are falling in love, to Beatrice’s delight and Eddie’s dangerous consternation.
As his desires close in upon him, Eddie, on the verge of madness, torn apart by not knowing what is happening to him, puzzled by feelings of sexual jealousy, inevitably explodes. Sexually estranged from Beatrice, he calls Rodolpho “not right,” implying he’s homosexual because he sews, sings and amuses people. Fearful of his own thwarted desires, he humiliates the young man, setting himself inevitably on the path to catastrophe.
Van Hove eliminates the neighbors and onlookers the script calls for, positioning the evening as more personal and less social. Jan Versweyveld’s scenic and lighting designs, Tom Gibbons’ sound design and the music credited to Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Fauré perfectly help focus on claustrophobia and dread.
Mark Strong is Eddie, willful, opinionated and terribly confused. Tall, bald, looking every inch the hero, Strong shows through his eyes Eddie’s pitiful vulnerability, although tied to his basic, misguided goodness and decency. Nicola Walker balances Beatrice’s concern and love with hard-to-express awareness of Eddie’s pain.
Michael Gould is an empathetic Alfieri. As the Italian immigrants (who sound Brookyn-ese), Michael Zegen is unyielding and watchful while, as Rodolpho, Russell Tovey erases all traces of servitude, playing the character as wise to, and not cowed by Eddie’s passions. Only Phoebe Fox’s Catherine disappoints, missing that character’s combination of allure and innocence.
By the end, horrified yet elevated, you want to look away, but cannot. Then the grey walls descend, hiding the carnage that is too much to bear.
--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 23, 2015