Tuesday, March 09, 2010

One Not To Be Forgotten - A View From The Bridge - Play Review

A View From The Bridge - Cort Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Arthur Miller, Directed by Gregory Mosher
Runs until Apr. 4th

There's been legitimate complaints about the reliance of stunt casting on Broadway, with a recent surge of actual legit movie stars popping onto the Great White Way (and not just reality stars or has-beens trying to revive their careers in Chicago). Sometimes the movie star is great, but the project is a dud (Hugh Jackman on Broadway), or more often than not, the star is a dud that ruins a great project (who do I start with?).

Yet as much as we can complain that only shows with stars are seemingly surviving on Broadway (with early deaths to great starless shows like Finian's Rainbow and Ragtime), here comes a new revival that throws in a young film starlet in a dark tragedy and comes out with stunningly beautiful results.

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber headline Mosher's new revival of Arthur Miller's classic Greek tragedy, and while Liev has done well with films, he's an acclaimed theatre veteran as well so his superb performance is no surprise, but the petite Scarlett Johansson makes her Broadway stage debut with fine finesse.

Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge may be a classic but my entire group knew nothing about the actual play (we're a bunch of philistines) but it's a beautifully accessible and sadly relevant and modern play about an Italian-American family living in Red Hook under the Brooklyn Bridge during the 1950's. Orphaned teenager Catherine (Johansson) lives with her aunt Beatrice (a superb Jessica Hecht) and uncle Eddie (Schreiber), a longshorman who understands the rules of the neighbourhood and union runs deep. Beatrice's cousins Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector) arrive illegally from Italy in search for better pay, but things start to unravel under Eddie's eyes when Catherine and Rodolpho begin showing an interested in each other.

Gregory Mosher's simple and unadorned direction places his superb cast (including a wonderful Morgan Spector, permanently filling in at the last moment when original cast member Santino Fontana had to step out due to injury) in a beautifully rendered tragic story that slowly unravels under the looming set by John Lee Beatty.

Liev Schreiber is simply thunderous and magnificent as Eddie, whose own personal conflicts begins to betray everything around him. There is a twinge of Schreiber's true intellect sneaking through blue-collar Eddie that is incongruent to the story, but Schreiber hulks his way around the set, a portrait of stubbornness and quiet selfishness.

Jessica Hecht (Sideways, Friends) plays Beatrice as the long suffering wife and while there have been complaints it seems one note, I found her performance moving in her quiet desperation to put some sense into her husband. There's a sense of fear and understanding all while a resolved acceptance in Eddie's overall personality that exhausts Beatrice.

Scarlett Johansson, even in my early preview, seemed mostly comfortable on stage, and any nervousness, seemed well channeled into her characters naiveness and blooming innocence and helped elevate her quick growth in maturity and understanding as Eddie begins to slowly prod his way into her life. Scarlett has a natural luminescence that easily translates into the desires for Rudolpho, and especially considering Morgan Spector had just stepped into the role, Spector and Johansson's had a great chemistry together that understandably fuels Eddie's anger.

Michael Christofer honourably plays the narrator/attorney as a one-man Greek Chorus that Miller constructs the play within. It's a strange device at first, especially in this type of staging, but it's extremely effective through the play, and just shows how inspired and calculated Miller's writing was. With clean direction from Mosher, and a strong cast, Miller's powerful cautionary play delivers a memorable image for the stage.

In a bit of pre-curser Tony talk, you can definitely look for Liev Schreiber at the Tony's this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if Scarlett gets one too. It wasn't a perfect performance yet but one that had the bones to really grow into a stunning performance.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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