January 26 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Arthur Miller play staged and acted as beautifully as the new Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge, directed by Gregory Mosher, starring Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Hecht, and Michael Cristofer. The previous record-holder was Michael Mayer’s 1998 production of the same play, which was a revelation to me. I’d previously thought the play was hokey and dated beyond belief, but Mayer’s rendition proved me wrong, thanks to a fiery cast headed by Anthony LaPaglia as the pent-up longshoreman Eddie Carbone, Alison Janney as his devoted but tough-talking wife Beatrice, and the late Brittany Murphy, who made her Broadway debut as the teenaged niece that Eddie loves too much. I never would have believed it but Mosher’s production leaves Mayer’s in the dust.
A View from the Bridge is Miller’s supremely self-conscious adaptation of Greek tragedy to a contemporary American setting. Eddie’s lawyer, Alfieri (played here by Cristofer), stands in for the Greek chorus, speaking directly to the audience, telling us from the very beginning what’s going to happen and commenting on the action along the way. We know that a man is going to betray himself and be destroyed in the process, and knowing all that in advance should make it all seem mechanical and hokey. Right? Yet from the very first instant, this production grabbed me and held me, because Mosher has deliberately and exquisitely steered away from the sentimentality and melodrama that often washes over and ruins Miller’s plays for me, while amping up the pure raw feeling and the psychological tension. Mosher made his name in the theater as David Mamet’s director-of-choice for many years (most notably, he directed the original productions of Edmond, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Speed-the-Plow). Together, Mosher and Mamet ran a tight ship, preferring productions with a Brechtian spareness and performances with a dry yet energetic matter-of-factness.
Mamet the philosopher-playwright insists that there are no bad guys, that every character is doing what he thinks is good and right. And that concept applied to the staunchly moralistic Miller’s work is bracing and extremely welcome. Scene after scene, showdown after showdown, you keep thinking you know where an argument is going and you keep getting surprised. One person speaks, and you think, He’s right (or she). Then the other one speaks, and you think, She’s right, too. Now that’s fine playwriting for you, and I must say that Mosher and his spectacular cast made me respect the incredibly fine craftsmanship of Miller’s play. He’s captured a stream of sophisticated emotions in this play, to which the actors bring extraordinary nuance and (extremely important) zero commentary, zero signaling to the audience.
One of the great things about Liev Schreiber is that he’s so large and powerful (and skilled and talented, and handsome!) that he doesn’t have to beat you over the head. He inhabits Eddie with phenomenal naturalness, conveying his passion while also inhabiting his peculiar lostness. The sexual stuff is especially sophisticated. I’ve never seen Eddie’s attraction-repulsion to Rodolpho played with more detailed notes. “He ain’t right….he ain’t right,” Eddie keeps saying to Alfieri, unaware that he’s also talking about himself. And I missed the tiny little throwaway line in which we find out that, after neglecting his wife in bed for months, Eddie’s been trying to get in the back door – Andy had to point it out to me afterwards.
I was a little afraid for Scarlett Johansson – you never know about these young movie stars and how they’ll play onstage – but she did a good job playing a character who’s just realizing that there’s a difference between being a girl and being a woman, for better and for worse. (There’s a little inside joke early on, when Eddie refers to Catherine a couple of times as “Madonna” – with her pale skin and dark brown ‘50s hairdo, Johansson looks uncannily like Madonna did in Speed-the-Plow.) Andy was a little bugged by Jessica Hecht’s broad New York accent, but I really really loved her performance as Beatrice, who tries so hard to speak the truth without sounding like a nag, and yet she can’t help crossing that line. And on down the line: Cristofer is terrific, Morgan Spector as Rodolpho is as well (though I was sorry not to get to see Santino Fontana in the role), and Corey Stoll is also fantastic (I would never have recognized him as the same guy who played the Jewish fabric merchant in Intimate Apparel).
I have no idea what Gregory Mosher has been up to since he turned over the reins at Lincoln Center Theater to Andre Bishop. But I’m delighted to see him back in the saddle, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.