Review by Kathleen Campion
The plot is built around Eddie Carbone. A strapping longshoreman on the Redhook docks of the 1950s, Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice, and his 17-year-old niece Catherine, in an Italian-American neighborhood near the Brooklyn Bridge. When two Italian immigrants, illegals, come to live with the family, Eddie’s sexual obsession with Catherine is revealed, and he comes apart.
The buzz around the current production hangs on the inventiveness of director Ivo van Hove. His refinement of the play to essentials, devoid of conventions of costume and set, offers us a truly fresh take on an American classic. The scene is stark and elemental; a grey box rimmed with transparent bench seating all around. It is, in every sense, stripped to basics.
Much has been written about the historical, even liturgical, trappings van Hove gives his production. In the opening scene, two men are seen stripped to the waist, in dim light, bathing themselves, suggesting ritual bathing, perhaps even the dressing of corpses.
The music is a combo of dusty cathedral and primal drums. The stage is a monolith; the actors are barefoot. The unabashed demands of ancient ethics–honor, respect, allegiance (defined in exclusively male terms)–drive the action. The dominant male—breaks the covenant—and reaps the whirlwind.
Eddie is played to heart breaking and infuriating perfection by Mark Strong. Aptly named, Strong’s stature and strength not only inform his character but color much of the staging.
For the women his physical dominance is clear and absolute, shading the sexuality between Eddie and his wife and Eddie and Catherine. In her first entrance and many that follow, Catherine (Phoebe Fox) hurtles into his arms wrapping her bare legs around his waist as he strolls around the stage holding her to him. It appears overtly sexual–until we realize who they are supposed to be to one another. We are almost embarrassed at what we were thinking. Beatrice, played by the remarkably volatile and varied Nicola Walker, stands her tiny self in opposition to Eddie’s overpowering blindness to reality. She loves him, but cannot save him. It is her small frame around which he wraps his dying embrace. Nicola Walker has our attention throughout.
For the two young men, both smaller and younger than Eddie, and one of them wanting the girl, the blocking of the actors is all jungle drums. All the rituals of male dominance and submissiveness are represented as they move about the stage.
Marco (Michael Zegen) is riveting in his tensile restraint. He submits because he must in the order of things, until he cannot. Rodolpho (Russell Tovey) wants the girl, so he challenges, then backs off, then challenges again.
Miller wrote us a narrator, Alfieri, a lawyer in this working-class neighborhood, who serves as Greek chorus, bit player, and ultimately gets the last speech, as though Miller worried his audience needed his message reinforced. Michael Gould’s Alfieri is a comforting presence as he comes in to occasionally steady the ship.
The cast appeared to be working without mics and with audience seated on stage as well as out front, they were playing to three sides. This may account for the occasional missed word or phrase. If that was true in row G of the orchestra seating, it may be a greater problem in “the gods.”
A re-do of such an oft-produced play has to have a driving vision–or why go there? The vision here is raw in the primal sense of the word.
A View From the Bridge – by Arthur Miller; directed by Ivo van Hove
WITH: Mark Strong (Eddie Carbone), Nicola Walker (Beatrice), Phoebe Fox (Catherine), Michael Zegen (Marco), Michael Gould (Alfieri) and Russell Tovey (Rodolpho).
Produced last year at the Young Vic in London then transferred to the West End.
New York producers include: the Young Vic, Scott Rudin, and Lincoln Center Theater.
Designed by Jan Versweyveld; costumes by An D’Huys; sound by Tom Gibbons; dialect coach Kate Wilson.
A View From the Bridge runs through Feb. 21 at the Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th Street, 212-239-6200, lct.org. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes with no intermission.