'A View From the Bridge'

Production expertly plants the seeds of tragedy while making every moment seem unpredictable.

Sometimes it’s high praise to call a stage director’s work invisible. The compliment applies to Gregory Mosher’s searing revival of “A View From the Bridge,” though it by no means indicates any lack of craftsmanship or insight. Returning to Broadway after a considerable absence, Mosher has instilled in his outstanding cast an unconditional trust in Arthur Miller’s text, evoking a time, a place and a 1950s blue-collar community with penetrating integrity. Each scene flows seamlessly from the one before in a production that expertly plants the seeds of inexorable tragedy yet grips with a tension and volatility that make every moment seem unpredictable.

The revival was assembled around the casting of Liev Schreiber as Eddie Carbone, the Brooklyn longshoreman whose simmering passion for his 17-year-old niece propels him to break unthinkable moral and family codes. Schreiber brings blistering intensity to the role; there’s as much power in his silences and baleful glances as in his anger. His spasms of pain suggest a man whose belligerence can’t quite mask the terror and panic induced by his helpless condition.

From the moment, early on, when he gently nuzzles his head into a too-lingering embrace with the orphaned girl who has grown up in his house, we know Schreiber’s Eddie is possessed by a desire that blinds and befuddles him.

Denial is stamped deep into the subconscious of Schreiber’s characterization, but it’s the absence of calculation that elevates Miller’s marriage of naturalistic psychological drama and Greek tragedy. It also informs the nuanced work of the actors around him.

Chief among them are Scarlett Johansson, remarkably assured as Eddie’s niece Catherine, torn between childlike loyalty and a womanly yen for independence; and Jessica Hecht as his wife, Beatrice.

The latter follows her impeccable work in the short-lived “Brighton Beach Memoirs” with a performance of even more finely layered complexity, offsetting Bea’s nagging harshness with a delicacy that’s heartbreaking. Her warnings to both Eddie and Catherine are issued more out of fear than jealousy. The character’s tragedy is that even when all of Eddie’s betrayals are exposed, she still loves him, expressed in an animal howl at the devastating close of the play.

While Bea observes from the beginning that her husband is on dangerous ground, the stability of the Carbone household is shaken beyond repair by the arrival of Bea’s cousins, Rodolpho (Morgan Spector) and Marco (Corey Stoll), illegal immigrants fresh off the boat from Sicily. The instant romance between Catherine and Rodolpho causes Eddie’s overprotective impulses to run riot as his resentment of Rodolpho crescendos into hatred.

He starts by inferring the Italian is courting Catherine only to benefit his immigration status. Then when that fails to discourage her, he insinuates Rodolpho is homosexual. “The guy ain’t right,” he keeps repeating, pointing out as evidence that he sings, he sews, he cooks and he’s blond.

Miller’s employment of local lawyer Alfieri as a one-man Greek chorus — providing portentous reflections on the action and articulating weighty themes of justice and honor — can seem heavy-handed. But Michael Cristofer is an actor of uncommon intelligence and compassion who brings gravitas to the running commentary and perceptive depths to his two interviews with Eddie.

In these powerfully loaded scenes, Alfieri functions as the obstinate longshoreman’s father confessor, without the sin ever being named. The futility of his attempts to steer Eddie away from his disastrous course is crushing.

Brushed with chiaroscuro textures by Peter Kaczorowski’s brooding lighting, John Lee Beatty’s quietly oppressive set is an atmospheric representation of an all-seeing community with rigid rules — particularly regarding stool pigeons. The blackened windows of its looming tenement houses are like watchful eyes, illuminated only when Eddie crosses the line in a plot development that echoes Miller’s own experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But it’s the unraveling of his family that cuts deepest. “I want my respect,” Eddie keeps barking at Beatrice, even when she can barely look at him. And even when the evidence is insurmountable that her troubled father figure will never be able to think rationally or disinterestedly about her future outside of his house, Catherine still struggles to free herself from her loyalty, dependence and naive hope that Eddie will somehow relent.

Looking shapely in tight sweaters and skirts yet still girlishly oblivious to her sensuality, Johansson embodies this dilemma with touching dignity, as much in her moments of cautious distance as those of heated self-assertiveness.

Originally an understudy, Spector stepped into the role of Rodolpho at short notice when Santino Fontana was injured during previews. But there’s no trace of uncertainty in his performance, which is rich in humor and flirtatious warmth, with just a hint of ambiguity to feed Eddie’s suspicions. As Rodolpho’s married brother Marco, Stoll etches a fully grounded man of formidable physical and moral strength.

There’s not a false note in any of the performances or an ill-considered directorial stroke in Mosher’s clear-eyed approach to this first-rate revival.

A View From the Bridge

Cort Theater; 1,079 seats; $126.50 top

Production

A Stuart Thompson, Araca Group, Jeffrey Finn, Broadway Across America, Olympus Theatricals, Marisa Sechrest, Weinstein Co., Jon B. Platt, Sonia Friedman Prods./Robert G. Bartner, Mort Swinsky/Joseph Deitch, Adam Zotovich/Ruth Hendel/Orin Wolf, Shelter Island Enterprises, Shubert Organization presentation of a play in two acts by Arthur Miller. Directed by Gregory Mosher.

Creative

Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; sound, Scott Lehrer; hair and wigs, Tom Watson; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes. Opened Jan. 24, 2010. Reviewed Jan. 20. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast

Eddie - Liev Schreiber Catherine - Scarlett Johansson Beatrice - Jessica Hecht Alfieri - Michael Cristofer Rodolpho - Morgan Spector Marco - Corey Stoll
With: Robert Turano, Joe Ricci, Matthew Montelongo, Anthony DeSando, Marco Verna, Alex Cendese, Mark Morettini, Antoinette LaVecchia.

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