By Carol Rocamora . . .
An empty space….The sounds of a mournful Requiem….
The stage is set for a tragedy of classical magnitude – and oh, do we get one.
With a stroke of his director’s wand, Ivo van Hove has transformed Arthur Miller’s classic, A View from the Bridge, into a melodrama of epic proportions. In this explosive 2015 Broadway revival (now streaming on-line), the fearless Van Hove, known for his radical interpretations of the classics (The Misanthrope, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Little Foxes at New York Theatre Workshop), has stripped the play down to its core – man doomed by raw human passion. And that passion sweeps the stage like a volcano, destroying everything in its wake.
Set in the 1950s in Brooklyn, A View from the Bridge tells the fateful story of Eddie Carbone (the fabulous Mark Strong), a longshoreman who lives in Brooklyn with his wife Beatrice (the compelling Nicola Walker). The Carbones are Sicilian-American. They are determined to survive, living by their old-world values of work, family and loyalty. “Eddie Carbone never expected to have a destiny,” says his lawyer-friend Alfieri (Michael Gould), the play’s narrator, hinting at the tragic flaw that ultimately causes Eddie’s downfall.
Eddie and Beatrice are raising their orphaned niece, the 17-year-old Catherine (Phoebe Fox), for whom Eddie has developed an unnatural attachment. When Beatrice’s young cousins Marco (Michael Zegen) and Rodolpho (Russell Tovey) arrive from Sicily as illegal immigrants, the Carbones provide them with a home while Eddie finds them work on the docks. But when Catherine falls in love with Rodolpho (a singer), Eddie feels he’s losing control. “This is my house!” he demands. “I want respect!” Desperate to keep Catherine in his power, he ignores Bea’s cries: “Let her go!” Instead, Eddie ridicules the blond-haired, gifted Rodolpho, challenging his masculinity and trying to diminish him in Catherine’s eyes. When these efforts fail, Eddie betrays Marco and Rodolpho by calling the immigration authorities, and the household explodes in crisis.
The build-up to the breaking point in this story of uncontrollable passion is almost too much to bear. Van Hove makes use of his empty stage to whip his characters into a frenzy. He and his set designer Jan Versweyveld have arranged additional audience seating on either side of the stage, mercilessly placing the spectators only inches from the action. The empty stage is lined with benches, where actors sit and watch each other perform each scene, barefoot. From the moment the play begins, with Eddie taking a (real) shower on stage after work, the primal elements rule. Nothing can be hidden and no one is protected from the impending devastation.
As Eddie, Mark Strong is mesmerizing. Standing center stage for almost two hours, unsupported by set elements, with the cast swirling around him, he’s caught up in a maelstrom of passion that catapults him to his demise. He’s a powerful stage presence, as is Nicola Walker as his wife who is desperate to make him face the truth. As the lovers, Phoebe Fox (as Catherine) and Russell Tovey (as Rodolpho) are a brave and moving duet. In the final terrifying moments, the stellar company rushes to center stage as the Requiem crescendos to a deafening climax, while blood pours down from the theatre heights, bathing the ensemble in shared tragedy.
“He was as good a man as he had to be, in a life that was hard,” says Alfieri, earlier in the play. It serves as Eddie’s epitaph – like Willy Loman’s in Miller’s Death of a Salesman. “The man didn’t know who he was,” says Charlie of Willy at his graveside. In A View from the Bridge, however, Eddie did indeed know who he was. And that caused his tragic downfall.
A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller, directed by Ivo van Hove, on Broadway, 2017, now streaming on National Theatre at Home (www.ntathome.com )