'A View From the Bridge': Theater Review

Jan Versweyveld
Frederick Weller (center) in 'A View From the Bridge'
Van Hove's vision elevates already strong material.
10/16/2016

Frederick Weller steps into director Ivo van Hove's Tony-winning production of the Arthur Miller drama, which arrives at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles with an accomplished new cast.

As the curtain slowly rises on Ivo van Hove’s Tony-winning revival of A View From the Bridge, the image of two men bathing in an amber mist is underscored by Faure’s Requiem, signaling that no good will follow. Stepping in for Mark Strong, who played the role on Broadway and in London, Frederick Weller stars as dockworker Eddie Carbone, for whom disaster seems written into the DNA of this fiercely acted, skeletal version of Arthur Miller’s 1955 inexorable march to doom.

When the original Young Vic production made the move from London to New York, many thought it too soon for a new adaptation following 2010’s acclaimed, though more conventional, staging with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson. A lesser play compared to its two immediate predecessors, A View from the Bridge lacks the political sting of The Crucible and the unflinching cultural critique of Death of A Salesman. But while it never moves too far past its premise, it remains a powerful character study, which, in the gifted hands of van Hove, does what Miller intended by elevating the internal struggles of an everyman to mythic status.

Scenic designer Jan Versweyveld’s brightly lit rectangle pens in the cast with a three-sided border of smoked-glass mirrors and a narrow opening in a black wall upstage. His players wear costumer An D’Huys’ non-period specific street outfits and bare feet. Eddie lives in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn with his wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols), whom he doesn’t love enough, and his niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), whom he loves a bit too much.

Their physical affection might have been cute when she was a kid, but not so much now that she’s approaching twenty. Into their lives come brothers Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register), workers from Sicily whom Eddie has sworn to house and protect from immigration. When a relationship blossoms between Rodolpho and Catherine, Eddie masks his jealousy with parental concern.

At first he denounces the young man as a scammer angling for citizenship. When Catherine is unswayed, he questions the young Italian's sexual orientation. A physical altercation seems ready to explode with violence when instead of striking Rodolfo, Eddie plants a kiss on his lips as a test. It’s a stunning moment in which Miller replaces a physical clash with a physical act of love, in the same way Eddie has replaced his love for his family with emotional violence.

A similar switch occurs in the narrative as Rodolpho and Catherine plan their marriage, while Eddie goes to extremes to stop them. His collision course with Rodolpho suddenly changes track, putting him in opposition to the quiet brother, Marco, who, like Eddie, claims to be concerned only with his family. Yet both men act on impulse, destroying what they love in the process.

Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan) is the lawyer Eddie turns to early on when things begin getting out of hand. “If I tell you this was like a dream, it was that way,” Alfieri informs the audience as he stands in for the Greek chorus. The line is one van Hove took to heart, creating a dreamy atmosphere underscored by sound designer Tim Gibbons’ spacy strains and white noise. A tense dinner conversation is punctuated by “Drumming,” Steve Reich’s minimalist composition for a single drum that builds the tension amid impossibly long silences.

The limbo-like setting helps emphasize the naturalistic performances of van Hove’s dynamic cast, starting with Weller as Eddie. The sexual tension between him and Catherine is so deeply rooted he is unaware of it, which only makes him become more frustrated when his animosity toward Rodolpho is questioned. While he may not have the physical prowess to match Strong’s Tony-nominated performance, Weller harbors a quiet intensity that masks a nerve-wracking potential for violence.

Nichols is a natural fit for her role of long-suffering wife, Beatrice. With her marriage slipping away, her attempts to get Eddie to see his errors seem one-part hopeful and two-parts hopeless, as if she, like the rest, has already figured out the inevitable end.

Although bewildered and saddened by her uncle, at the same time Catherine is giddy about her burgeoning romance. That balancing act between girlish charm and womanly determination is deftly executed by Combs. Sufficiently docile and confused by Eddie’s antagonism, Register offers a handsome smile in the underwritten role of Rodolpho. While as his brother Marco, Esola is a brute at rest for most of the play until finally stirred to action. In the end he becomes Eddie's match — the roaring embodiment of injured ego masquerading as paternal (or in Marco's case, fraternal) protection.

The real star of A View From the Bridge is van Hove, who followed this production on Broadway earlier this year with another much-lauded revival of Miller's The Crucible, starring Ben Whishaw, Saoirse Ronan, Sophie Okonedo and Ciaran Hinds. Here he uses minimal design to achieve maximal emotion. But it’s not just the stark environment, or the audience at close quarters, right and left; it’s van Hove’s acute understanding of the characters and his ability to transfer that insight to his cast that makes this production worthy of its accolades.

With little more than empty space and actors, he cleverly dares the human heart to confront the naked emotional truth of Miller’s writing.

Venue: Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles
Cast: Danny Binstock, Catherine Combs, Alex Esola, Andrus Nichols, Howard W. Overshown, Dave Register, Thomas Jay Ryan, Frederick Weller
Director: Ivo Van Hove
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Set and lighting designer: Jan Versweyveld
Costume designer: An D’Huys
Sound designer: Tom Gibbons
Music director: Steven Bargonetti
Executive producers: Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
Presented by Center Theatre Group from The Young Vic Production, Scott Rudin, Lincoln Center Theater, Eli Bush, Robert G. Bartner, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Roy Furman, Peter May, Amanda Lipitz, Stephanie P. McClelland, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Sonia Friedman, John Gore, Ruth Hendel, JFL Theatricals, Heni Koenigserg, Jon B .Platt, Daryl Roth, Spring Sirkin.

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