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When Arthur Miller wrote “A View from the Bridge” in 1956, the country was in the throws of McCarthyism and the inherent Cold War fear mongering. In today’s atmosphere of xenophobia, the timelessness of Miller’s script is apparent and brought to life in the dramatic staging of “A View From the Bridge” that opened Wednesday night at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Times may change, but not that much.
Miller’s plays are often Greek-style tragedies that look at the American dream in a fractured family’s light. “Bridge” is no exception, touching on illegal immigration, inappropriate physical attention, blue-collar masculinity, poverty, and the parental dilemma of when to let go.
The Young Vic production won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Play this year. It arrives at the Ahmanson sparsely and dramatically staged like it was in New York. As directed by Ivo Van Hove (who won the Tony for Best Direction of a Play), the show does not try to reimagine Miller’s plot. To avoid seeming dated, it eschews the trappings of sets and clothes that would convey a timeframe.
The vision presented is an austere one with nothing visually distracting. The square stage has a solid wall with a door-size cutout in the background. A clear glass fence with a black ledge the characters use for seats surrounds the space, establishing a border between audience and performance. It is deliberately reminiscent of a boxing ring with the ledge serving as the ropes keeping in the combatants. Most of the characters wear simple nondescript clothing that is also ageless.
The approach forces the audience to watch for two hours – without an intermission – as the family tragedy unfolds before their eyes. As the narrator/lawyer, Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan) foretells, “You want to spread an alarm but nothing has happened yet.” However, everyone in the theatre is anticipating the denouement.
The plot involves dockworker Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller), Beatrice, the wife he loves too little (Andrus Nichols), and Catherine, the orphaned 17-year-old niece (Catherine Combs) he loves too much–i.e. inappropriately. Catherine’s desire to get a job and be an adult provides the initial tension and makes Beatrice aware that his possessiveness of Catherine may be worrisome.
Eddie tries to counsel Catherine about getting a job, growing up, etc. He reminds her to watch what she says since you “can’t get back a word you gave away.” The lesson is hammered home later in the show.
Things come to a head with the arrival of Sicilian family members, Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register), who immigrated to Brooklyn illegally to find work. The Carbone family wants to shield and protect their foreign relatives, until it becomes obvious that Rodolpho and Catherine are getting a little too close. Eddie begins to find fault with everything Rodolpho does (he sings, sews, cooks, and is blond, traits that Eddie finds effeminate). When Catherine and her beau begin talking marriage, Eddie believes it is a ploy for Rodolpho to become a legal resident, not an act of love. Eventually, Eddie, Marco and others use words and actions that have tragic consequences. The play, with its Greek tragedy undertones, builds to a final, tense requiem.
The performances are stellar (although Weller could have spoken a little louder at times). Everyone feels Eddie’s pain, confusion and frustration. Nichols’ quiet poise make everyone feel Beatrice’s growing concern.
While a masterful, worthwhile rendition of an Arthur Miller classic, there were some elements that made it imperfect, including a final monologue from the narrator that seemed unnecessary. Additionally, the last half hour seemed longer. However, maybe like a car crash that seems in slow motion, the climactic final section was in slow motion too. Ultimately, one cannot look away.
Arthur Miller’s timeless play, “A View From the Bridge” will be in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson through Oct. 16. The show will then move to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Sept. 14
Center Theatre Group
Los Angeles Times: Ivo Van Hove brings his stripped-down ‘View From the Bridge’ to Los Angeles
Sparks Notes: A View From The Bridge
Photo by Jan Versweyveld of (L-R) Alex Esola, Catherine Combs, Dave Register and Frederick Weller in “A View From the Bridge,” courtesy of Center Theatre Group.