What a treat. The Young Vic production of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” is a powerful offering even in the cavernous space of the Ahmanson Theatre. Oh, there have mutterings through the years. ‘View is not Miller’s best work.’ ‘It is too narrow.’ ‘Culturally stereotyping.’ To all of which I say, “Pshaw.” In the fresh, Olivier and Tony awards garnering interpretation by the Young Vic and Ivo Van Hove, fragile masculine ego transcends cultural identification.
Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan) is the neighborhood lawyer, cum sage, and Greek chorus. He is the bridge between the immigrant Italian, Brooklyn neighborhood of Eddie (Frederick Weller) and his wife Beatrice (Andrus Nichols), and the laws and mores of contemporary (1955) America. The neighborhood turns to Alfieri for advice. Catherine (Catherine Combs), Beatrice’s niece is almost 18. She has lived with them since being orphaned. Eddie’s care and tending to her is clearly crossing the boundary as her flowering womanhood is obvious to all. While, on the one hand, Catherine is pushing for independence as soon as she finishes secretarial school, she leaps inappropriately onto Eddie like a child when he returns from working on the dock. Meanwhile Beatrice has promised to house and help two cousins, Marco (Alex Esola) and his brother Rodolpho (Dave Register), when they are to arrive illegally from Sicily. Marco is muscled and driven by the need for work to feed his wife and three children back home. Rodolpho, tall and blond, with a lovely voice, lured by the promise of opportunity in America, is open to the opportunities of the new world. It is a set up ripe for Catherine to finally have an appropriate focus for her burgeoning sexuality. At the same time Eddie’s raging jealousy cannot be contained. He sees the passion growing under his own roof. Several times Eddie goes to Alfieri, and several times Eddie is told you have no right to stop her from choosing her own path. Let her go. Recognize your own feelings. At home Beatrice says the same thing. It is a message Eddie cannot hear. It enrages him and the story rises to its disastrous end. Alfieri has warned us from the git go. Nothing can be done to deflect Eddie’s downward spiral.
Van Hove lets the story unravel on a stark stage. But for the dollar amounts in several lines, and the dire (rather than simply economically stressed) picture of Italy in the dialogue, it is a timeless tale unfettered by fussy stage sets or dated costumes. While Miller’s writing has been criticized in more traditional productions, it rarely falters when viewed in this stark light. Fathers and guardians have often infantilized girls in the face of their flowering and/or been unable to check their own inappropriate desires. Across all cultures men of all stripes have become hung up on RESPECT, often to disastrous ends. It is not a tale that only belongs to the ‘50’s or to Italian American immigrants.
On both sides of the stage a few lucky audience members are seated on risers creating a visual Greek chorus to Alfieri’s verbal commentary. The Ahmanson is a challenging house for spoken theater. Viewed from the back of the orchestra there was a lack of immediacy in the less charged scenes. Opening
night it was a particular challenge for Frederick Weller for the first half. As the action became more charged (and perhaps because of an adjustment in his mic) he was able to meet the force of the rest of the cast. Hopefully that will change during the run. Thomas Jay Ryan cuts a very convincing figure as the philosophical, but realistic, lawyer. Catherine Combs is every inch the coquettish teenager and the impassioned young woman driven to independence from an oppressive overlord.
It is easy to see why Ivo Van Hove’s production of “A View from The Bridge” attracted awards and critical acclaim. Serious theater goers should not miss the opportunity to see it. Should you manage to snag seats on the stage or in the front of the orchestra just know, I am jealous.