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A View from the Bridge
At the Goodman Albert Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – “A View from the Bridge” comes to the Goodman Albert Theatre riding a wave of ecstatic audience and critical praise stretching from England to Broadway. The production is a personal triumph for Belgium-born director Ivo van Hove, and he deserves every standing ovation this Arthur Miller revival has aroused.
What van Hove has done is not recreate the Miller tragedy. But he has given it a fresh physical look and stirred the action to an almost hypnotic emotional intensity.
The play is the story of Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman who rules a household consisting of his wife Beatrice and his teenaged niece Catherine, raised by Carbone and his wife from childhood after the death of the girl’s mother and Beatrice’s sister.
The play is set in Brooklyn in the 1950’s but the van Hove staging eliminates outward indications of time and place. The action takes place within a bare square, suggesting a boxing ring. There are only a few modest props and the costumes look timeless, everyday clothing that would be worn today. All the characters are barefoot.
The look of the play may initially be distracting to the viewer (Why are the characters barefoot? Why not a realistic set instead of the abstract square?). But the power of the play grabs the spectator almost immediately and what might be criticized as gimmicks are absorbed naturally into the presentation.
The attentive viewer senses storm warnings almost immediately. As Eddie sits next to Catherine in his apartment, he casually, almost absent-mindedly strokes the girl’s bare thigh. Eddie clearly has erotic feelings for his niece that extend beyond his role as a substitute father, feelings he can’t or won’t recognize.
Soon a pair of new characters makes their entrance, two of Beatrice’s cousins who have been smuggled from their poverty stricken Italian home to Brooklyn by ship to find work. They will live in Eddie’s apartment, keeping a low profile while they earn money loading and unloading ships on the docks. Marco has temporarily left a wife and three children behind. Rodolpho, his younger brother, is single and carefree and wants to become an American citizen. Almost immediately romantic sparks ignite between Rodolpho and Catherine, agitating the possessive and domineering Eddie.
The play is performed without an intermission, allowing the dramatic heat to build without interruption as Eddie sees Catherine slip from his influence into the arms of Rodolpho. Disaster lies ahead and it finally explodes in a stunning final scene that will leave the audience staggered, though everyone in the theater can see the catastrophic climax coming.
By stripping away the realistic physical details, van Hove liberates the white hot emotions of the storyline, allowing the play to take on a universal feeling, a grim family saga that could happen anywhere at any time. Miller noted the sense of Greek tragedy in his play, and what grabbed the ancient Greek audiences thousands of years ago grabs us today. Any separation in time and place is swept aside y the primal passions let loose within that bare square—feelings of twisted love, betrayal, jealousy, and delusion.
Although there are a few laughs embedded in the dialogue, the play proceeds somberly to its inevitable conclusion. The elimination of an intermission is critical to sustaining the play’s march to the inevitably violent conclusion. The atmosphere of foreboding is further subliminally enhanced by percussive and throbbing musical and sound effects.
The production obviously requires a commanding and credible Eddie Carbone to make van Hove’s vision come alive, and Goodman has him in Ian Barford, who plays an intimidating primal man who towers over the other main characters in size and in fierce emotion. Barford convinces the viewers that he can harbor incestuous feelings for his niece (and maybe even homosexual feelings for Rodolpho) that he cannot comprehend. It’s a performance outwardly dominated by the character’s raw physical personality, but inside he’s a confused and frustrated man caught up in forces beyond his recognition, much less his control, and for that weakness he does earn some sympathy. As a complex, commanding piece of acting, we won’t see any better this season, or maybe beyond.
The remainder of the ensemble, mostly out-of-town actors, is superior. We watch Catherine Combs grow from a kittenish 17-year old innocent into a young woman who takes charge of her own life as she falls for Rodolpho and challenges Eddie’s domination over her life.
It’s easy to underestimate Andrus Nichols’s low keyed performance as Beatrice, especially when matched with the menacing Eddie, but it’s a beautifully shaded evocation of a woman desperately trying to avert the emotional train wreck that will destroy her home. She’s anguished over the breakdown of her marital sex life with a resentful and apparently impotent husband, and now she is trying to save her home from the train wreck created by Eddie’s jealousy of Rodolfo.
The character of Alfieri, the lawyer who serves as a kind of Greek chorus, is a revelation under van Hove’s guidance. Ezra Knight elevates a figure who generally comes across as a portentous (and pretentious) mouthpiece for the playwright into a three dimensional figure fully integrated into the narrative. Alfieri sees the tragedy of Eddie’s obsession with Catherlne but he is helpless to stop the disaster that will destroy the man.
Daniel Abeles is refreshingly persuasive as Rodolfo, too often portrayed as a flighty lightweight. Abeles gives Rodolpho some spine and intelligence to mix with his youthful exuberance. He’s the first Rodolpho I’ve seen who could actually make Catherine a good husband. Brandon Espinoza is fine as the contained but finally explosive Marco. Ronald Connor and James Farruggio do well in a pair of minor roles.
Van Hove has brought his long time design team to the Goodman stage, and they carry out the director’s concepts with subtle creativity. So props to Jan Versweyveld (set and lighting), An D’Huys (costumes), and Tom Gibbons (sound).
Van Hove hasn’t deconstructed “A Vie from the Bridge” but he has rethought it scene by scene and character by character, uncovering new layers of dramatic meaning and theatrical effect in Arthur Miller’s plot and dialogue. The result is a production enhancing the play rather than overwhelming it. I walked into the Albert Theatre expecting to witness a play by Ivo van Hove based on something he once read by Arthur Miller. Instead, I enjoyed van Hove’s remarkable partnership with the author, blessedly free of directorial self-indulgence, and the results are amazing.
“A View from the Bridge” runs through October 15 at the Goodman Albert Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street. Most performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $99. Call 312 443 3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org/View.
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