Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, this year’s Best Revival Tony winner, has arrived at the Ahmanson in a production likely to leave audience opinion split between “brilliantly innovative” and “pretentiously boring.” Though it took me a while to get there, I ended up veering towards the former point of view. Still, unless you’re lucky enough to be sitting either onstage (an option here) or up close (if you’ve got the bucks), the Ahmanson proves far too large a venue for a production as intimate as this one.
Miller’s script remains as potent as ever in its depiction of how love gone crazy can lead a man to his doom, in this case the incestuous passion smouldering inside married Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller) for his seventeen-year-old live-in niece Catherine (Catherine Combs), a lust to which his long-suffering wife Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) has either consciously or unconsciously turned a blind eye.
The merda hits the fan when Beatrice’s fresh-off-the-boat illegal-immigrant cousins Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register) get invited to stay with the Carbones and Eddie takes an instant dislike (make that hatred and revulsion) for pretty-boy blond Rodolpho, whose tenor warbling and ways with a needle-and-thread convince the macho longshoreman that his cousin-in-law “ain’t right.”
No matter that Rodolpho’s “ain’t-rightness” would appear to be entirely in Eddie’s hothouse of a brain, the stage is set for Italian-American tragedy of Greek proportions.
Belgian director von Hove gives Miller’s Sicilian flames a Northern European chill from the get-go, staging his View From The Bridge on a cold, gray, nearly empty box of a set. Barefooted characters wear muted-toned, era-ambiguous costumes. And throughout the production’s uninterrupted two hours, sound designer Tom Gibbons offers up a disturbing, monotonous, barely audible but unrelenting musical underscoring.
The intention seems clear, to strip away external distractions (such as a literally rendered Carbone home or neighborhood) and, by eliminating Miller’s intermission, to propel this Greek tragedia all’italiana without pause to its inexorable conclusion.
Perplexing as this all may be at the start, it’s a concept that suddenly makes sense when neighborhood lawyer Alifieri (Thomas Jay Ryan), who’s been our narrator from the get-go, tells us fairly late in the game, “If I seem to tell this like a dream, it was that way,” an “aha” moment for this reviewer that turned what had bordered on artsy-fartsy into a legitimate artistic choice.
Still, I can’t for the life of me figure out why, since the Carbones sound like they’re straight out of Brooklyn, the just-arrived Italians speak ESL like they were born in the American Midwest.
Unlike the London-to-Broadway View, one that imported its entire British cast intact, the Ahmanson ensemble (including Howard W. Overshown as Eddie’s longshoreman buddy Louis and Danny Binstock as an immigration officer) are American all the way, cast out of New York by Telsey + Company.
Nichols’ tigress of a Beatrice, the budding womanliness of Combs’s Catherine, Ryan’s haunted Alfieri, and Esola’s volcanic Marco are all absolutely splendid as is blond hunk Register, whose decision to play Rodolpho without a hint of the feminine makes Eddie’s mistaken certainty all the more unfounded, and Overshown and Binstock both deliver in minor roles.
van Hove missteps big, however in casting lanky, leading-man handsome Weller as Eddie. Though the talented star plays the hell out of the part, put a smoking jacket and tie on him and you’d see James Bond, not Tony Soprano.
Also making the transatlantic, transcontinental move to the Ahmanson are production designers Jan Versweyveld (set) and An D’Huys (costumes), and their work is stunning.
Jeff James is associate director. David S. Franklin is production stage manager.
Binstock, Delia Cunningham, Brady Dowad, Overshown, Mac V. Wallach, and Paige Lindsey White are understudies.
Ultimately, like the John Doyle Sweeney Todd revival that visited the Ahmanson in 2008, Ivo van Hove’s radically reconceived A View From The Bridge may work better as a second, third, or fourth view of a classic than as a first-timer’s first look.
Still, I can’t deny the power of van Hove’s vision when his View From The Bridge reaches its devastating grand finale, one that would do grand opera proud.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles.
September 14, 2016
Photos: Jan Versweyveld.