Tuesday, September 19, 2017

At Goodman, Ivo van Hove's Minimalist Take on Arthur Miller's 'A View From the Bridge' Provides Much Discernible Potency -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A View From the Bridge
by Arthur Miller
directed by Ivo van Hove
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru October 15

The late Arthur Miller is my favorite playwright.

Over the years, I have seen many of his masterworks: Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible, The Price, After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, Broken Glass and his final Finishing the Picture, which premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2004, a year before the writer's death at 89.

I like the way Miller's plays have identifiable, easily digestible story lines that usually seem clearly moralistic at face value while also offering considerable thematic, allegorical depth beyond the surface.

Somewhat surprisingly, it has been five years since I've last seen any of Miller's works and seven since viewing a really famous one (the phenomenal Death of a Salesman).

Until Sunday afternoon, at Goodman, I had never seen A View From the Bridge, which dates to 1955-56 and seems to be considered among Arthur Miller's very greatest plays (likely alongside Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and The Crucible).

A revival directed by the Belgian, Ivo van Hove--who rose to prominence in Amsterdam and is referenced as a "maximal minimalist"--earned a bunch of awards in London and on Broadway, and the Goodman production is essentially part of a national tour.

Notably, van Hove's rendition features virtually no scenery, no footwear on the actors, and many audience members sitting onstage bracketing the action.

The director supposedly employs such techniques to amplify the contemporary resonance of classic plays, and while I may have benefited from a more traditional staging being my introduction to this Miller masterpiece--and perhaps a perch closer than the Goodman balcony--I perceive the nouveau choices as adding power to the writer's words and themes. 

The title, A View From the Bridge, is seemingly intended to be symbolic, as there is no bridge represented or referenced, and no one who views anything from one. 

But along with a metaphorical bridge from one generation of American immigrants to another--in this case from Italy--it seems Miller means the Brooklyn Bridge, as the drama takes place in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook.

There, a longshoreman named Eddie Carbone (Ian Bedford in this production) lives with his wife Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) and her 17-year-old orphaned niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), with whom Eddie is amorously smitten.

That Catherine initially seems appreciative of her uncle's affections, and essentially even flirts with him, makes it all the more creepy, with things beginning to come to a head when Eddie implores her not to take a stenographer's job--for fear of men noticing her--despite his having paid for such schooling.

Eddie agreeably takes in two of Beatrice's cousins when they newly arrive as illegal immigrants, but soon becomes rather spiteful as Rodolpho (Daniel Abeles) and Catherine take a fancy to each other.

Though somewhat obstructed by his wife, niece, lawyer Alfieri (Ezra Knight), friend Louis (Ronald L. Conner) and Rodolpho's brother Marco (Brandon Espinoza), Eddie vitriolically insists "something isn't right" about Rodolpho--1950s-speak for insinuating he's gay--and eventually attacks him in multiple ways, including contacting immigration authorities.

From what I read about A View From the Bridge before and after seeing it, supposedly Eddie is to be viewed as a generally decent, hardworking guy who is tragically flawed--adulterous, underage, incestuous lust and all--which ultimately brings consequences I won't detail.

This was seemingly, in part, Miller's way of condemning "upstanding" Americans--include his close collaborator, Elia Kazan--of outing suspected Communists to the HUAC committee when he himself refused to.

But with van Hove's stark approach apparently adding modern relevance as intended--even if different viewers might come away with different meanings--the following is what I got from a 1955-56 play in 2017. (It was initially staged as a one-act, soon revised into two acts, and done without an intermission at Goodman in about 110 minutes.)

Though he may have some (not readily apparent) admirable qualities, Eddie is basically just an asshole, whose human frailties prompt him to long for something that should be out-of-reach, and as a result acts reprehensibly toward nearly everyone in his life, demeans even the notion of homosexuality and--despite being an American immigrant himself--noxiously maligns other immigrants, even of similar origins.

I AM NOT SAYING this exactly parallels the masses of unemployed or underpaid coal miners and other--in many ways quite estimable and meriting of support--blue collar workers who bought into the fairy tale that a petty, miscreant billionaire was going to bring back their jobs and/or incomes, and (perhaps) resultingly feel compelled to hate Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, homosexuals, women who dare express themselves, etc., etc., while victimizing immigrants as the problem (rather than Wall Street, the corrupt corporatocracy, bought-and-paid politicians and other actual culprits, including automation).

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't see similarities that the great Arthur Miller--and this steely new representation of one of his seminal works--helped me to better comprehend.

To say "he's a great guy but just doesn't like him, him, her, her and even him for no discernible reason," or because he's gotta blame somebody else for his own frustrations, is--to my way of thinking--bullshit.

I'm not sure if this is what Ivo van Hove's terrific, Tony-winning rendering of A View From the Bridge is going for; certainly it premiered well before Trump even began his presidential campaign.

And it does have some aspects I could have done without; e.g. spare drumbeats during tension-filled moments seemed a tad over-the-top and unnecessary.

But it brings new potency to a brilliant play, and in a variety of ways is pretty damn remarkable.

No comments: