Chicago Theater Review: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (Goodman Theatre)

by Lawrence Bommer on September 19, 2017

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

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UNSTOPPABLE AND UNSPARING

This week Goodman Theater’s season-opener, a landmark drama from 1955, exploded into relevance. A rarity worth a return, Arthur Miller’s original 120-minute, one-act Broadway version of an inevitable domestic tragedy focuses more on the family than the neighborhood (and shortchanges Beatrice’s anguish over her husband’s self-destructive passion for his niece). But the strengths that make the longer version work are here: compassion for the characters; a plot that’s both relentless and timeless; and the heartfelt truth that all sins are social.

What stands out in 2017 about this primal script is how much Miller anticipates today’s xenophobic anti-immigrant witch hunts—rancor that splits families as much as nations. As in The Crucible and All My Sons, no playwright connects the personal and the public so powerfully, whether fusing the sexual repression of teenage girls to homicidal hysteria or cost-cutting corruption to a son’s suicide. It takes a village.

Concentrated into set designer Jan Versweyveld’s tight and austerely decorated playing area (resembling a boxing ring), with audience members also on stage flanking the action in raised stands, is a convincing cross-section of a post-war Brooklyn. Unlike most productions, there’s no sense of the looming outside borough impassively witnessing this modern Greek tragedy take its persistent toll. Unlike the film and operatic versions, there’s no final reckoning that turns a street shadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge to a pool of blood.

In this Young Vic production (which has played Broadway, L.A., and D.C.), the on-stage eavesdroppers must stand—or sit—in for the unseen community, a not altogether convincing substitution. But, no question, a suddenly small mainstage fills to bursting with a plot where every achingly unavoidable twist seems foretold.

From the stark start, Ezra Knight turns the lawyer Alfieri, our worldly-wise narrator, into a moral anchor amid this real-life soap opera. As always, the staging, here by Dutch director Ivo van Hove, must focus like a laser on the much-flawed Eddie Carbone (Ian Bedord), a long-established resident and long-shore worker. A self-proclaimed embodiment of tradition, this icon of respectability is also filled with an implacable self-ignorance. By his awful, chosen end, Eddie has put himself beyond the pale. To Alfieri’s grudging astonishment, Eddie reveals himself completely and fatally to his incensed fellow-citizens, an instant pariah incarnating shame and betrayal.

What precedes that is a very slow car crash seen from all sides. Arthur Miller’s taut and driven script leaves us helpless to intervene as it tailspins to disaster. Its power lies in the specificity of its story, a rootedness that paradoxically takes the tale “out of time”: We know it will be repeated again and again in other homes and periods. It’s no accident that we hear a clock ticking seven souls down to doom.

The conflict couldn’t be clearer or uglier. Childless and lonely, Eddie has ceased sex with his all-suffering wife Beatrice (a hollowed-out Andrus Nichols). Instead he pours his unwanted passion into the predatory protection of his 17-year-old adopted niece Catherine (an incandescent Catherine Combs). Though he’s paid for her training as a stenographer, Eddie’s incestuous obsession prevents him from letting her see other young people, a virtual entrapment that masquerades as tough love. Innocent beyond her years, Catherine is a proverbial caged bird, ready to fly once she tests her wings.

Everything changes when Beatrice’s two cousins, illegal immigrants, clandestinely arrive, seeking safety in her family’s rock-ribbed hospitality. Determined to send money home to his wife and children, muscular Marco (burly Brandon Espinoza), a former fisherman, is eager for hard work on the waterfront. An exotic Sicilian blonde with the soul of a poet, Marco’s less macho younger brother Rodolpho (a charming and ingratiating Daniel Abeles) is popular on the docks, a jokester called “Canary” for his operatic singing. He’s also a good cook. Rodolpho is taken by America—and even more so by Catherine.

Rodolpho’s seemingly harmless kindnesses to Catherine incense jealous Eddie. He wants to keep her a dependent “child” and considers Rodolpho “not right” because of his sweet disposition, softer skills, and suspected homosexuality. The collision between Eddie and Rodolpho was fated from the first meeting, with an agonized, enabling Beatrice and a confused Catherine caught in the crossfire and bathed in blood.

Van Hove’s staging takes its time to spring Miller’s traps. Some scenes are glacially foreboding with a free-floating fear that curdles into crisis. Whatever catharsis comes from this irresistible, unescapable climax brings no closure.

Exploding any crap sentiment about “this above all—to thine own self be true,” “I gotta be me,” and “I did it my way,” Eddie is all that—for absolutely no redeeming cause. He set himself against life, love and loyalty. Right now that’s a test faced by the entire nation. Miller is right to raise both inner—and outer—demons.

photos courtesy of Liz Lauren

A View from the Bridge
The Young Vic production
Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre
170 North Dearborn
ends on October 22, 2017
for tickets, call 312.443.3800
or visit Goodman Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki Smith September 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

Excellent review. Strong performances, but the onstage observers did not work for me. Rather, they were a serious distraction.

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Ken Goldberg October 7, 2017 at 7:06 am

You must see this Powerful Drama in its final days at the Goodman Theatre; Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge tells a gripping story of strong, heated, family dynamics at its best and at its worst…

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