A View from the Bridge: Theater review by David Cote
Shatteringly tough revivals such as A View from the Bridge can inspire dueling emotions. First, there’s immense satisfaction and gratitude that Belgian director Ivo van Hove digs down and grabs the pulsing, bloody heart of Arthur Miller’s 1956 drama about Italian-American dockworkers’ tragically tangled codes of honor. But then comes anger that similarly audacious visions of the classics are so rare; by and large, we don’t know what to do with the world’s greatest plays. Let’s get to the love first, and rage later.
Anyone who has followed van Hove’s work over the years at New York Theatre Workshop (Scenes from a Marriage, The Little Foxes) and at BAM (Roman Tragedies, Antigone) will not be surprised by his radically stripped-down approach to Miller. Working, as always, with designer Jan Versweyveld, van Hove puts his outstanding British cast (well coached on their Brooklyn accents) in a grimly gray rectangular arena. The boxy space evokes a concrete zoo or abattoir—apt comparisons, it turns out. Tom Gibbons’s sound design borrows glorious swaths from Fauré’s Requiem and, when tensions arise between characters, spare drumbeats. Those hollow plunks increase in tempo until you feel them hammering away at various characters’ tormented temples.
The head that throbs the hardest is bullet-clean and belongs to Mark Strong, who gives a performance of harrowing intensity as doomed Eddie Carbone. The well-liked longshoreman is married to Beatrice (Nicola Walker), and for years they’ve raised her orphaned niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox). Now Catherine is just shy of 18 and hungry for a job and dates with boys. When her eye drifts to the flamboyant illegal immigrant Rodolpho (Russell Tovey), fresh off the boat from Italy, Eddie’s semi-incestuous jealousy and weirdly paranoid homophobia erupt. Eddie appeals to local lawyer Alfieri (the excellent Michael Gould), who can see the man is dangerously obsessed with his niece but does nothing. In some ways, View is as much the tragedy of the lawyer (who also narrates) as of the dockworker who cannot articulate or control his desires.
Van Hove stages this elegant and lean tale with near perverse understatement. The actors are barefoot, speaking in measured, almost diffident tones. The simplicity and restraint, however, gather to a ferocious and bloody head that leaves you breathless and aghast. Lest you think direction and design is the real star (yes, both are utterly amazing), the ensemble—most of the actors direct from the Young Vic world premiere in London—is uniformly superb, palpably relishing van Hove’s emotionally transparent approach.
Earlier I promised angry words about New York’s “classics problem.” I know that even by European standards, van Hove is exceptional (though not alone). Our directors need to study how he strips away anything inessential to the text and lasers in on breathing, moving bodies in space. Because if our theatrical heritage continues to resemble dusty mannequins in an empty museum, that will be the real tragedy.—David Cote
Lyceum Theatre (Broadway). By Arthur Miller. Directed by Ivo van Hove. With Mark Strong, Nicola Walker, Phoebe Fox, Russell Tovey, Michael Zegen, Michael Gould, Richard Hansell, Tom Hammond. Running time: 1hr 55mins. No intermission.
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