This production of A View from the Bridge comes from the Belgian experimental director Ivo Van Hove and what a difference this makes. In this pared down production, Arthur Miller‘s tragedy is played on an almost boxing-ring like set with no allowance for time and place. This is the story of the Brooklyn longshoreman, Eddie Carbone and his obsession with his niece, Catherine but it’s also a universal story of the destruction of a family.
The play begins on a bare thrust stage with a new scene in which Eddie, played by a toned and almost too attractive Mark Strong, washes away the grime from a day at the docks. He is greeted home by his wife Beatrice and embraced by Catherine, his 17-year-old niece, who lives with them and has been raised as his own daughter.
Immediately, you notice that things aren’t quite right in the Carbone household when Catherine jumps into Eddie’s arms and wraps her legs around his waist. She is 17 after all. Fittingly for Miller’s Greek tragedy, he gives us a one-man chorus in the form of a lawyer, Alfieri, who narrates the story of Eddie and hints at the disaster to come. But we are soon distracted by the arrival of two illegal Italian immigrants who are Beatrice’s cousins. They’ve come to America looking for work and opportunity. Catherine, who has been kept home as much as possible and dreams of starting her life and escaping these confines, is immediately smitten with Rodolpho, the younger of the two brothers, to Eddie’s anger and resentment.
As the tension builds and taunts become more aggressive, an overdose of testosterone leads to rage and violence. We watch, powerless, knowing full well that disaster will strike. The only question remaining is when and who will be the winner. A part of me wanted to stand up and tell them to stop. It is an exercise in frustration similar to watching a car crash in slow motion. If you could only stop it before it is too late. Van Hove plays on this even slowing down the dialogue with long pauses between statements. I felt it was an exceptional directorial masterstroke.
Eddie, like most classical heroes, has a tragic flaw that will be his undoing. From his point of view, all he wants is a better life for his niece than the one he had himself. On the other hand, he is in denial about his lust for Catherine and even shocked by Beatrice’s knowing understanding of what is really at the heart of Eddie’s rage. His desire for a younger woman and his inability to let her have a life with another man.
Mr. Strong is superlative as Eddie, a study in denial of a certain kind of man who is all action and no introspection. Nicola Walker is moving as the warm and frustrated wife who can only stand by as the man she loves wrecks his life and that of everyone around him. Phoebe Fox is very good as a girl on the cusp of womanhood who gradually come to understand what Eddie cannot admit. Rodolpho, played by Luke Norris, is both honest and amusing, though Van Hove’s decision to make him outraged and violently protests the idea that he might want to marry Catherine solely to stay in the country, seemed out of character. Emun Elliot is outstanding as the solid and earnest Marco. Michael Gould channeled his inner Saul Goodman to bring us a small time lawyer who tells of this unsavory tale.
The design by Jan Versweyveld conveys a sense of caged animals and brilliantly captures the plays undercurrents. The sparseness of the staging extends to the barefoot actors and unobtrusive costumes designed by An D’Huys, though Catherine’s skirt and jumpers seemed oddly out-of-place. Tom Gibbons who designed the sound added Fauré’s Requiem to many scenes. And While I did like the music and pulse noise (a bit like the ticking of a clock), I found that, on the whole, they annoyed me more than anything. At one point, the music is decidedly ominous but this drags on for far too long. Great sound should add to the drama in an unobstructive way and that was not the case here.
I know I’m nit picking at this point but there were a few instances when I thought the direction was a bit too insistent. Miller is subtler with Eddie’s longing. Did we really need Catherine to jump into Eddie’s arms and wrap her legs around his waist three times? These are instances where less would be more. All that being said, this staging of Miller’s classic is visceral and honest, bringing to life a universal tale of sexual longing and destruction. Eddie’s unhealthy obsession leads him to betray his own clan and closes on a powerful and bold climax.