By Patrick Hurley
Ivo Van Hove’s barebones production of Arthur Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge, playing now at the Ahmanson Theatre, is a reconceived, stripped down stunner, that is as exhilarating as it is powerful.
Working wonders with the dated text, Mr. Van Hove’s remarkable pacing and use of expressionist elements brings this sixty-year old play to staggering modern-day life while still adhering to it’s classic Greek structure without alienating a single audience member. This is a true work of genius.
From the moment the partition on stage rises to the world of the play, which is a small square playing space, outlined with a bench that serves to trap the actors inside, filled with theatrical haze, and lit from below in true Kubrick-esque fashion, we are invited into a theatrically heightened, and minimalist landscape reminiscent of something Sartre would have dreamt of.
We first meet Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan), a lawyer, who is going to tell us the story of Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller). His didactic reasoning for retelling the story becomes clear almost immediately, when he compares himself to a lawyer in Caesar’s time saying he is powerless to watch as the events of history run their bloody course. A beautiful set-up to a passionately realized tragedy. What’s brilliant about Alfieri’s staging in this production, is that he starts outside the square that traps the other characters, and slowly, as he is pulled into the story, he is pulled inside with the rest of them. Inescapable observer turned participant.
Eddie Carbone is a longshoreman, who lives with his wife Beatrice (Andrus Nichols), and his orphaned niece Catherine (Catherine Combs). The story focuses on Eddie’s attachment to his niece. He clearly harbors a secret desire for her, a desire that will lead to his inevitable self-destruction.
The point of attack happens when Beatrice’s cousins Marco (Alex Esola), and Rodolpho (Dave Register) arrive from Italy to stay with the Carbone’s while they work to send money back to their families. They are in the country illegally, and must be careful not to get into any trouble and risk being discovered by immigration. A given circumstance that serves to push Eddie to action later in the play.
When Catherine begins seeing Rodolpho, Eddie’s slow descent begins, and the closer Catherine and Rodolpho seem to get, the farther down Eddie goes, until the impending wedding of the two pushes him over the edge.
Arthur Miller created a classic tragic hero in Eddie Carbone. He follows the ancient Greek structure of a tragedy very closely, and adheres to the Aristotelean unities that most tragedies still function under. What director Ivo Van Hove does, however, is he strips away the naturalism from the piece, and places it inside a surreal landscape and allows for the character development and dialogue to build the world. This says a lot of Miller’s work. It suggests that the piece is strong enough to stand on the merits of it’s literary qualities,
and doesn’t need to inhabit a “real” looking world. It also says quite a bit of Mr. Van Hove, whose use of duration, pacing, and minimalism shatters every expectation one could ever have about an Arthur Miller play, and then makes it work more successfully than recent naturalist productions have. He commits to the story. He allows for the relationships between the characters to fill the space. He knows that space between actors creates tension, that pauses in the dialogue will move the audience to the edge of their seats, and he seems to always know exactly where to place all of these elements. Because he understands the text so well, the tension builds, amid gasps from the audience, to a truly exhilarating crescendo.
The acting style ranges from artificial to fully realized, with equal purpose. There are moments where actors speak their lines with very little inflection and no movement, seemingly robotic. Then there are times when emotions bubble up and characters rage at each other. This contrast keeps the audience on edge, it increases dramatic tension in moments where it can easily get overlooked. It plays out at times like a dream, like an incongruous dream where awareness is heightened toward an impending danger.
This world is populated by a truly brilliant ensemble. As Eddie, Frederick Weller is compelling, disturbing, and tormented. His journey is one we are hesitant to take with him, but the actor pulls us in too far for us to refuse. Much like Altieri, we start outside, but are inevitably pulled right into the action. Catherine Combs, as Catherine is equally compelling, and the two work off of each other in perfect rhythm.
The real star here, however, is the production itself. The blending of styles, and the use of music throughout. The single drum beat that fills the silences in several scenes, as manipulative as it is, totally works and the play never lacks tension. In the end, this production is crackling, visceral, and wondrously inventive. It will leave you not only out of breath, but wanting much, much more.
The Young Vic Production of
A View from the Bridge
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Ivo Van Hove
September 14-October 16
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles 90012