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A CurtainUp Review
View From the Bridge
By Elyse Sommer
Curtainup was still in its infancy when it reviewed its first View. . . in 1997. That production's outstanding cast was headed by Anthony La Paglia as longshoreman Eddie Carbone, Allison Janney as his wife Bea. Their 17-year-old niece Catherine was played by Brittany Murphy. Janney came to View. . . a season after playing playwright Garry Essendine's ex-wife in Noel Coward's Present Laughter which is also having another run on Broadway, and became internationally known via the long running TV show West Wing. Murphy appeared in this, her only stage role, after having made her name in the teen film Clueless,died last December at age 32.
While I remember that 1997 production vividly, Liv Schreiber's Eddie makes the current View. . . a brand new, emotionally enthralling experience. I was tempted never to take my eyes off this actor whose face is a constantly changing map of pain, rage and unacknowledged passion. For anyone who sees Schreiber's longshoreman (and whether you've seen this play before or not, you won't want to miss this production) any future mention of this play will send memories of this Eddie popping into the mind's eye.
Fortunately, this isn't a one-star production. The cast overall is superb. Film actress Scarlett Johannson as Catherine, the niece Eddie loves with an intensity that exceeds the fondness of an uncle, has done much to dispel the notion that movie stars without stage experience are merely a ticket selling novelty. She's older than the seventeen that the part calls for, but she convincingly captures the wide-eyed eagerness of a bright, eager for life young girl who, when we first meet her, is unaware that her affectionate relationship with her uncle is a rather too spontaneous. Her very natural and non-showy performance is abetted by Tom Watson's brunette wig and Jane Greenwood's costumes, both very 1950's and not especially flattering.
Jessica Hecht, a constantly working and rarely less than excellent actress, is well cast as Bea, the wife who loves her niece but is painfully aware of what's behind her husband's keeping a tight reign on her activities outside the home. All three members of the Carbone household have the Brooklyn cadences down pat (with probably a bravo owed to dialect coat Stephen Gabis). Not one of them ever slips out of accent.
As for the Italian " submarines" (a once common term for illegal immigrants), Bea's distant cousins Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector), their accents too are letter perfect, as are their performances. Their arrival puts two extra people in the Carbone's tight tenement apartment that would be a challenge in the best of circumstances. But family's family and, with no jobs to be had in Italy, Bea and Eddie (he not too happily) put up the men so that they can work and, in Rudolpho's case, send money to his wife and five children. Stoll is especially powerful in his final confrontation with Eddie. Spector wins over the audience as he does Catherine from the moment he sings "Paper Doll." His blonde good looks and very non-Brooklyn, he-man persona are of course anathema to the volatile Eddie.
Even if you never saw the play before, there are really no surprises to this plot which could be described almost within the parameters of a tweet: Trapped in the hard working go-nowhere job on the docks and in a tired marriage, the only ray of sunshine in Eddie's life is his niece. Fears that she'll leave are actualized by the arrival of Rodolpho. The situation explodes with an unspeakable act of betrayal and violence.
The surprise is not what's going to happen — you know almost from the beginning that this is indeed a Greek tragedy. But watching how that inevitable climax is reached with these actors, and especially Schreiber, is all the suspense you need to be enthralled for every minute of the two hours.
As I mentioned in my 1997 review, Miller himself posited that it was possible to cast a modern man in the mode of a classic Greek tragedy. In an essay entitled "Tragedy and the Common Man" Arthur Miller. While the essay was published close on the heels of Death Of a Salesman, also a classic Everyman tragedy, it's A View From the Bridge that most closely emulates the traditional Greek model. The predominantly Sicilian-American Brooklyn enclave known as Red Hook is every bit as bound by codes of justice and vengeance as those prevailing in Sophocles' Thebes. Eddie Carbone knows the rules that make treachery the worst of all crimes, but his conflicted feelings for his niece make him powerless to avoid committing an act of betrayal , even though he vomits before he drops that fateful dime into the phone that's presciently on view from the beginning. The immigration authorities represent fate's intractable Furies and the intermittently appearing narrator Alfieri (Michael Christopher) is a one man Greek chorus.
Miller, not content with a tragedy enveloping the Carbones and their kinsmen, extends the betrayal by planting two additional "submarines" so that the act of vengeance against one man becomes a tsunami affecting the entire community.
Director Gregory Mosher and the designers have staged this revival to bring out the full power of Miller's play and the players bringing it back to gripping life. Here's hoping that the producers will find a way to extend the limited run.
For more about Arthur Miller and links to reviews of his plays, check the Arthur Miller Backgrounder from our Author's Album.