A Plea for the Greeks..er..Italians: Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge

I tend to be a little dubious when the poster for a revival of a play looks like this:

It is a bad sign when all you decided you needed to sell the show was your leads in yellow red “angry” lighting. Also, it’s eerily reminiscent of this poster (except this one has a tagline):

But I was very pleasantly surprised. A View from the Bridge is one of the last plays Arthur Miller had produced before marrying Marilyn Monroe and his forced testimony before HUAC. (It is, however, after Elia Kazan named names to the Committee in 1951, and Miller responded with The Crucible.) It was revived in the 90s for the Roundabout, and now makes its way back to Broadway in the hands of director George Mosher and starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johannson.

A View from the Bridge is getting a lot of attention, partly thanks to the wattage of its cast and Ben Brantley’s rave review in the New York Times, but I do wonder how many excited Johannson fans know what the play is about: a man (Schreiber) who is love with his niece that he raised as his daughter (Johannson.) This might come as a surprise to Johannson fans. Maybe not Schreiber fans though.

No sexual tension between these brothers. No sir!

Liev Schrieber loves to push the envelope. He played the ticking bomb vice president in the Jonathan Demme/Denzel Washington remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and a cross-dressing veteran in Taking Woodstock:

He’s an accomplished stage actor. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in another revival, Talk Radio and finally won for his work in Glengarry Glen Ross. In short, he’s an incredible presence who’s pretty darn hard to compete with on screen, let alone onstage.

Which is why Jessica Hecht should be commended for her performance as Schreiber’s Eddie’s wife, Beatrice. It’s a tragic and thankless role to play the mother in a father-daughter incest story. Miller doesn’t give her a lot of text to get herself noticed, and Schreiber’s magnetic charisma makes it difficult to look at anyone but him, but Hecht makes her lines count. She and Schreiber have a brief scene where Beatrice begs Eddie to “let Catherine [Johannson] go.” This speech is expected, but when she begins to asks him when she “gets to be a wife again,” the filled silence between the two actors is truly painful. Eddie has become so obsessed with his niece that he is incapable of loving his wife, and she sees everything. In a play that hops and skips over the other characters’ story lines in favor of following Eddie’s tragic fall, Hecht manages to share in Eddie’s final tragedy while Catherine and her possible paramour (partially the cause of Eddie’s growing obsession with Catherine) look on. We don’t want to blame the magnetic Eddie, so we want to blame his daughter’s boyfriend, the man who drove the wedge between them in the first place.

If you want to describe A View from the Bridge, the best term is Greek tragedy. It is the play where Miller manages to do what he proposed in his essay “Tragedy and the Common Man.” In Schreiber’s Eddie Carbone we see a man whose crisis belongs on the great stages of Athens and Jacobean London. A professor of mine once said that as dramatic tradition goes on, the scope of the world of the play grows smaller. With Christopher Marlowe, heroes strive to conquer the globe to control the world. In Shakespeare, kings try to heal their nations. By the time you get to the Jacobean period, when the world is scary and very Catholic, when the American colonies are growing like mushrooms, the last frontier for a man to conquer is his sister’s bedroom (John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore).

This is a great revival and Schreiber is not to be missed. You want to go to there.

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