The excitement carried over to the inside too. In fact, some members of the audience were so worked up that they kept breaking into applause. Right in the middle of the performance. I saved my clapping for the curtain call but I was excited about seeing the show too. And not just because of its stars, although I’ve admired their work in the past. I was eager to see A View from the Bridge because it’s my favorite Arthur Miller play. It’s not as great as his Death of a Salesman or The Crucible but it’s the one that made me cry when I was 16, first fell in love with Miller and read every play he'd written up to that point.
I'll concede that the tears may have had something to do with the fact that I was so close in age to Catherine, the 17 year-old at the center of the drama. But even now, there’s a poignancy to this play that touches me. Miller first wrote A View From the Bridge as a short one-act play and though he later expanded it to the current two-hours running time, the storyline remains simple. Eddie, a Brooklyn-Italian longshoreman, and his wife who have lived for several years with their orphaned niece open their home to two illegal immigrants from the old country. A budding romance between the niece and one of the immigrants stirs the uncle’s own repressed longings for the girl. Tragedy ensues.
There are often echoes of Greek tragedy in Miller’s plays and never more so than in A View From the Bridge, which even has a one-man chorus, the family lawyer, who comments on the action (click here to read a Wall Street Journal about the real Red Hook attorney who inspired the play). Miller originally wrote the play in verse and its language still retains some of that lyricism. But the connection to the Theban plays of Sophocles is strongest in the character of Eddie, a decent man undone by a tragic flaw—his unacknowledged feelings for the young woman who is his surrogate daughter.
It’s a juicy role. The sturdy Van Heflin played it in the original 1955 production and 12 years ago, Anthony LaPaglia deservedly won a Tony for his heartrendering performance (he was fighting a cold at the performance I saw and still magnificent). Now, Schreiber has taken the part. He is, of course, one of our very best stage actors and it’s hard to think of another who is more dedicated to or more thoughtful about his craft. It’s no surprise that he’s the first guest to kick off the new “Broadway Talks” series at the 92nd Street Y that begins on March 1. (Click here for more information about it OR here to watch a recent interview Schreiber did on Theater Talk.) The problem may be that Schreiber is too smart to play the part. His Eddie comes across as too self-aware. And that undercuts the dawning realizations that make the play a true tragedy.
Much of the attention for this production has focused on Johansson who’s making her Broadway debut as the niece. The good news is that she’s good enough that I hope she’ll make room in her busy movie career to do more stage work. I was less pleased with Jessica Hecht, who brought a one-note quality to Eddie’s wary wife but the rest of the cast is fine. As are the cinematic set by John Lee Beatty, nicely lit by Peter Kaczorowski, the period costumes by Jane Greenwood and the unflashy direction by Gregory Mosher.
Both K and I admired the production and were glad that we got to see it. But I left the theater dry-eyed.