Young Vic’s “A View From the Bridge” Diminishes Power

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Phoebe Fox, Russel Tovey and Mark Strong. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

By Karen Isaacs

Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is an epic tragedy – almost from the beginning you realize things will not go well and that only one person can prevent it but he cannot see or acknowledge the errors of his thinking.  It has definite Greek tragedy overtones though it deals with ordinary people not kings or gods.

I have fond memories of several productions of this play that I’ve seen over the years. Long Wharf’s 1982 production starring Tony LoBianco as Eddie and Rose Gregorio as Beatrice, directed by Arvin Brown, transferred to Broadway and garnered two Tony nominations – for LoBianco and as best revival.  I also saw the Greg Mosher directed revival in 20xx with Liev Schreiber as Eddie, Jessica Hecht as Beatrice and Scarlett Johansson as Catherine.

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Mark Strong and Phoebe Fox. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

The play tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks in the early 1950s.  He lives with his wife, Beatrice, and his 18 year-old niece, Catherine, the daughter of Beatrice’s sister whom they have raised. Catherine is turning into an attractive young woman and is beginning to want independence – a job, to go out, to have boyfriends.  Eddie seems very protective of her.  The play, which like all good tragedies takes place over a limited time span of a few weeks, centers around the arrival of two “submarines” – two Italian cousins of Beatrice – who are entering the country illegally and staying with them.  Times are tough in Sicily, and the older brother Marco has three children, one of whom is ill.  He hopes to stay in the country three to five years, sending money home to support his family.  His younger brother, Rodolpho, is more carefree and different.  He is a blond, mentioning that the Vikings had visited Sicily centuries ago, and we learn that he like to sing, and can both sew and cook.

The story is narrated by Alfieri, a lawyer who comments on the inevitability of what will happen.

Catherine and Rodolpho are attracted to each other; each are young and carefree. She shows him around the city, they go to movies, and have fun together.  Eddie is not pleased.  He wants Catherine to find a “better type” of man.  He does not like that she has accepted a job working for a large plumbing contractor – he wants her working in Manhattan.

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Phoebe Fox and Nicola Walker. Photo by Jan Versweyveld

His dislike for their attraction to each other, causes him to believe that Marco is “not right” – a subtle way of saying that he is gay.  He also believes that Marco is only interested in Catherine to get citizenship.

Things are not good between Eddie and his wife; it is clear that they have not been intimate for many months and that she feels Catherine acts too freely around Eddie – appearing in just slip, etc.

It is not a secret from the audience what is going on.  Eddie has an unacknowledged attraction to Catherine.

Given that, it is no surprise that the entire family is engulfed in tragedy and that Eddie destroys both himself and others.

The Young Vic production directed by Ivo Van Hove won raves in London and got much critical acclaim here.

Unfortunately, I am not one of the admirers of this production.  It seems too much like a typical case of a director (here the very “hot” Van Hove) putting his concept over the actual play and in doing so diminishes the work.

This is a concept production.  The stage set is minimal – a low clear box surrounds an abbreviated playing area. Audience members are seated in a number of rows on each side of the stage – somewhat disconcerting for those of us in the main auditorium.  As the play opens, the set is covered like a box that slowly rises, so first of all we see feet.

For reasons unclear to me, the actors are all barefoot.

But Van Hove, who is Dutch, has made some other questionable decisions as well.  Some characters have been eliminated and the total lack of set sometimes confuses us as to where we are – in the apartment, on the docks, on the street.  The ending rugby scrum, may have a symbolic purpose – but it also makes it unclear what really happens.

Also found the box – which could be a reminder of a boxing ring – distanced me from the actors and the drama.

The British cast is excellent.  Most of them maintain a good facsimile of an American accent though not necessarily Brooklyn which we might have trouble understanding.  It is strange that the two immigrants have no trace of an accent.

Mark Strong does an excellent job as Eddie – he believes what he believes and he refuses to see what is obvious to everyone else.  Nicola Walker as Beatrice somehow seemed unwilling to accept the obvious conclusions.

But the most misguided characterization –which must be blamed on the director – is that of Phoebe Fox as Catherine.  First of all, her costume is totally inappropriate for the period of the play; her skirt is so short that when at one point she is on the ground, her underwear is clearly visible.  Secondly, Catherine is played like Lolita;  it is hard to imagine that an 18-year-old girl brought up in a conservative Italian-Catholic community,  would jump and wrap her legs around her father figure.

So while, others may be standing and cheering this production, I found it amazingly unmoving.  The catharsis that you expect from a great tragedy is lacking.

The problem to me is that Van Hove decided to make this a Greek tragedy without recognizing that Arthur Miller had already done that for him.  All he had to do was be faithful to Miller’s script.

A View from the Bridge is at the Lyceum Theater, 149 W. 45th Street through February 21. Tickets are available through telecharge.

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Nicola Walker, Michael Zegen and Mark Strong. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

 

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