- OnStage Los Angeles Critic
The titular view from the bridge is perhaps more accurately a view of a love triangle so messed up it could put the relationships on Game of Thrones to shame. Los Angeles theater fans should run, not walk down to Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre for this can’t miss revival of Arthur Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge. Directed by Ivo van Hove, this production originated in 2014 at the Young Vic in London before transferring to Broadway last year, where it won two 2016 Tony Awards—Best Revival of a Play and Best Direction of a Play for Van Hove.
This is not your grandmother’s version of this classic play, which first premiered in 1955. The set, designed by Jan Versweyveld, is stark and clean, with no frills, next to no props, and no scenery aside from a rectangular box with one simple door inside which the action unfolds. The fantastic ensemble wore simple, modern clothing and no shoes (with the except of one plot-relevant pair of high heels). The production even features on-stage seating on either side of the simple set, adding to the intimate, focused feel. The lighting, also by Versweyveld, is often intentionally harsh, creating the feeling that the characters are on the spot, subjects of an interrogation, almost. Occasionally, the actors are even placed intentionally in shadow.
A View from the Bridge is set in an Italian-American neighborhood in 1950s Brooklyn. The protagonist is Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller), a longshoreman who works hard to provide for his wife, Bea (Andrus Nichols) and his niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs). Catherine, now 17, is an orphan and the daughter of Bea’s late sister, and has been raised by her aunt and uncle her whole life. Their world is forever changed when Bea’s cousins, Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register), illegally enter the country from Italy and move in. Marco has a starving wife and sick children back home he is determined to earn money for and eventually return to, while Rodolpho has more unconventional aspirations of becoming a singer and sees himself staying in the United States long-term.
There are a lot of layers to this plot, which mirrors a classic Greek tragedy. As such, it is narrated by Alfieri(Thomas Jay Ryan), a family friend and attorney who immigrated from Italy himself at one point. Given his unique perspectives on both Italian and Italian-American culture, Louis is the “bridge” between the characters, and therefore the point-of-view from which the story is told.
Marco and Rodolpho’s arrival is when the play shifts from vaguely uncomfortable, as you suspect something is not quite right with the odd relationship between Eddie and Catherine, who acts far younger than her 17 years, to almost difficult to watch. You see, Catherine and Rodolpho hit it off, which Eddie immediately hates—ostensibly because he suspects Rodolpho is gay and only interested in Catherine so that he may marry her and stay in the country, but actually because he harbors some highly inappropriate, unresolved feelings for his niece himself. I told you it was messed up.
I cannot praise Van Hove’s stunning direction enough. With a running time of just under two hours, there is no intermission, and the tension is masterfully built to the point where you almost feel as if you’re creeping closer and closer to the edge of your seat. In one memorable sequence, long, loaded pauses are used to communicate the increasing tension between Eddie, Bea, Catherine, and their houseguests over time. Metaphorically and, eventually, literally, the walls are closing in around them as the drama builds to a point of no return. With no distractions, Miller’s complex characterizations and smart dialogue can truly shine. Just as greed, jealousy and sex ultimately strip the characters down to the most basic, barbaric versions of themselves, the direction strips the play down to its most basic form, to great effect. The only criticism I have is that for whatever reason, the actors were sometimes difficult to hear in the large theater, although I adjusted to the slight strain by the end. Ultimately, this “view” is quite stunning, and will leave you processing long after you leave the theater.
A View from the Bridge runs at the Ahmanson through October 16th. After that, this production and cast will move to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. from November 18th to December 3rd. To buy tickets for the Ahmanson run, which range from $25-$125, visit www.centertheatregroup.org. Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld