I didn’t get it. I don’t get any of it. The best of lists it made, the exaltations of acclaim from people in the industry that I respect and admire, and frankly the whole damn production from start to finish—I didn’t get ANY of it.
So I’ve been going over it in my head for months. Trying to figure out where I missed the proverbial boat and determine if it was a matter of taste or if I just really don’t like Ivo van Hove’s directing style and his production of the Arthur Miller classic, A View From the Bridge.
The thing is—I’m drawn to theatre that makes me feel strongly. Love it or hate it, I want to feel strongly one way or another each time I leave the theatre. I think post-show ambivalence equals means a production has failed. To me, art should challenge, provoke, rattle, inspire and transform. When I walk away from a show feeling ambivalent, or in the case of A View From the Bridge, ANGRILY ambivalent— that’s a problem for me.
Don’t get me wrong—I love experimental theatre and contemporary performance practices. Andrew Schneider’s You Are Nowhere, presented at the COIL Festival last year is hands down one of the most exciting, groundbreaking, forward-thinking pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. But when does a production cross the line from experimental and avant garde to pretentious and indulgent?
I thought van Hove’s production of A View From the Bridge was pretentious and indulgent. We purchased $20 “cheap seats” in the last row of the theatre and were warned upon purchase that there was absolutely no late seating and no intermission. When we entered the theatre we were forcibly, angrily ushered into the house and told to seat ourselves immediately. The hostility from the front of house staff wasn’t clear enough to be a deliberate directorial choice and yet was palpable enough to make you wonder.
Twenty minutes later and twenty minutes past the curtain time, the lights came up on a giant cube in the center of the stage with audience members seated on three sides of the set. As the “curtain” rose, we saw two pairs of feet, steam rising from the floor and water falling from the top of the cube. It was clear that this technical special effect, this spectacle in the face of minimalism would be used again later and for some reason that telegraphing really bothered me.
I felt disconnected from the minute the actor spoke his first line. I couldn’t hear from where I sat and what I did hear were British actors forcing generic American accents despite the fact that the play is set in Brooklyn. Along with not being able to hear, I also couldn’t see well, so the minimalist acting didn’t read up in the balcony.
I wanted to be connected to characters in this extraordinary, aptly relevant play and yet all I felt was disconnected. I struggled to see where the story was being honored, so heavily layered over text was the director’s concept. I grew angry at the intentionally slow pacing of one of the scenes that felt out of place, and masturbatory. I felt like I was on the outside of a really big theatrical inside joke.
The final scene of van Hove’s A View From The Bridge is technically impressive, eye-catching and does indeed use the same special effect as the opening scene but I left completely unmoved, unattached to any of the characters and not caring a lick about the story or the show as a whole. I was baffled by the thunderous applause and standing ovations and couldn’t figure out what the rest of the audience saw that I missed. I began to wonder if this was an example of crowds following a trend without really understanding or appreciating. A theatrical hipster bandwagon.
At the end of the day —at the end of the play— it seemed as though van Hove cared less about interpreting Miller’s words in a new way and more about corrupting or hijacking them to create commercially acceptable, yet alienating "high art.”
On the one hand I’m grateful that there’s a place on Broadway for a director like van Hove. On the other hand I’m disappointed that he’s the director chosen to represent departure from the spectacle and schmaltz of big Broadway musicals to more experimental, groundbreaking work.
If theatre is about connection, big and small, subtle and overt, then Ivo van Hove’s A View From The Bridge failed. It doesn’t foster connection. It doesn’t bridge a gap. It builds one.