A View from the Bridge
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 26, 2010
Arthur Miller was the first playwright I was ever serious about: when I was a senior in high school my big English term paper project was about his plays (I was the only person in class to choose a dramatist rather than a novelist or poet!). I read all of his important stuff for my paper, and A View from the Bridge was the play I decided to omit, partly because it didn't fit in with the thesis (something about father figures and the American Dream), and mostly because I didn't get it; didn't like it.
Well, 30 years and two acclaimed Broadway productions later, I have to say that I still neither get nor like A View from the Bridge. It's the major Miller play that looks inward rather than outward to define its protagonist's tragic flaw; where Joe Keller of All My Sons and Willy Loman of Death of a Salesman do bad things in wrongheaded pursuit of values they think they're supposed to believe in, Eddie Carbone of View does a very bad thing out of sexual confusion and lust. This is just not interesting to me, at least not as presented by Miller; the morality of this piece confuses me. And being older, now, than most of the characters in the piece, hasn't clarified anything for me. (Note: if you need it, there's a good plot overview—with spoilers, sorry—at Sparknotes.)
So, I'm afraid this is not going to be a glowing review of the new Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge, a production that most of my critical colleagues have been raving about. It seems to me not to be necessary and certainly not definitive, though it has its moments. The lady sitting next to me unwittingly summed up what I more or less was feeling about the key performances in this show—after the curtain was down (following a prolonged ovation, with a lots of folks on their feet), she said she was tired after watching all that acting. I am pretty certain she meant it as a compliment.
But I was made tired by, especially, Liev Schreiber's carefully constructed performance as Eddie, a work of effort and skill wrought in such a way that you can feel every grueling second that went into every intelligent and thoughtful choice. The Brooklynese dialects affected by Jessica Hecht, as Schreiber's wife Beatrice, and Scarlett Johansson, as his niece Catherine, started out feeling overwhelming and continually got in my way; so did the unconvincing accents used by Morgan Spector and Corey Stoll as Beatrice's two immigrant cousins from Sicily: I never bought either one as an Italian. And Michael Cristofer's valiant wrestling with the pretentious role of Alfieri, the lawyer who narrates the tragedy, seemed pretty apparent as well. I need to add that Johansson, though equipped with plenty of stage presence, never made me believe she was an innocent 17-year-old girl who had spent her life being sheltered and protected by her uncle.
Now all that said, there were plenty of moments in Schreiber's performance that I admired and enjoyed. He's a great commanding and compelling actor, always interesting to observe. And Hecht lets forth sounds in the final scene that alarmed and moved me in a way I wasn't expecting. John Lee Beatty's set, which shows the overpoweringly bleak facade of the apartment where Eddie lives and then rotates to show the bland but comfortable living area within, is both impressive and invaluable to the production. Other elements of the design, particularly Peter Kaczorowski's lights, work extremely well. And Gregory Mosher's direction, if not particularly indicative of the stark tragedy Miller is going for, is taut and holds us captivated throughout.
I imagine this review will feel dismissive to those who got more out of the production than I did, and I apologize for that. I came in hoping that I would finally discover what this play has to say to me, but—and this is finally very personal, about me more than about A View from the Bridge—what I discovered was that there seems to be little for me to take from it at all.