With all the subtlety of a longshoreman, Michael Mayer’s revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” sinks into some very troubled waters. After his fine work this season on “Triumph of Love” and “Baby Anger,” the director seems intent on doing for the Miller melodrama what Stephen Daldry did three years back for the British warhorse “An Inspector Calls,” but the attempt at reinvigoration fails. “Bridge” merely spans the short distance between noise and portentousness.
Largely miscast and often badly acted, this Roundabout Theater revival does little to bolster the position of this play in the Miller canon. Greek tragedy by way of social realism, the 1955 “Bridge” doesn’t hold up very well, its speechy pretensions and moralizing excessive even by the era’s standards.
And Mayer knows it. Rather than try to skirt the play’s demode trappings, Mayer indulges and even exaggerates them, much the way “An Inspector Calls” turned a creaky mystery into an impressive display of director’s theater. But here, the moody spotlights and foreboding speeches just seem stagy. Worse, they seem silly.
A postwar tragedy, “Bridge” is the story of Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie (Anthony LaPaglia), a good man with one big flaw: He loves Catherine (Brittany Murphy), his 17-year-old niece by marriage, way too much. Eddie and wife Beatrice (Allison Janney) have raised the girl since childhood, and the goodhearted uncle’s feelings for his tight-sweatered niece are blossoming just as surely as the young girl’s womanhood.
Household tension builds when two cousins from Sicily arrive to stay with Eddie and family. Rodolpho (Gabriel Olds), the younger of the two illegal immigrants, takes an interest in Catherine (and vice versa), and Eddie responds by whispering rumors that the blond-haired, rather flamboyant Rodolpho is a homosexual desiring Catherine only for green-card reasons. When that fails, Eddie resorts to harsher measures, breaking a Sicilian code by ratting on his kinsmen to the immigration men.
Eddie’s betrayal leads most tragically to his own downfall, of course, an outcome preordained not only by the play’s Greek conventions but by the weighty foreshadowing forced upon the audience by the narrator, lawyer Alfieri (Stephen Spinella). “I knew where he was heading,” Alfieri intones early on, as if the audience didn’t.
Spinella, miscast as the gruff, grim lawyer, effects a come-and-go Brooklynese, and both Murphy (as the niece) and Olds (as her immigrant suitor) wildly overact in a production that takes ethnic caricature to ludicrous extremes. The Italian immigrants, with their mama-mia accents, are Sicily via Central Casting.
Fortunately, LaPaglia and Janney are more convincing as Eddie and Beatrice. With his stocky build, sandpaper voice and dewy, jittery eyes, LaPaglia provides a firm center for the production, playing Eddie as a guilt-ridden guy who sacrifices everything without quite understanding why. Janney, playing the wife as a frowzy, desperate woman fighting a losing battle, lends some honest emotion to the surrounding affectation.
Mayer stages the main action on a circular playing space, with dockworkers and neighbors often perched on bleacher-type seats at the periphery. David Gallo’s set intentionally, and more than a little ham-fistedly, suggests a Greek amphitheater, with the large, overwrought ensemble playing chorus. The busy staging repeatedly sends the cast up and down the aisles of the theater, a ploy that, like the too-dramatic lighting and ominous music, just gets in the way of this “View.”