Of the shows I chose to skip last year due to my ban on seeing any plays for a second time, the only one I really regretted missing was Ivo Van Hove’s production of A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic. Fortunately it came back for a second round in 2015 at the Wyndham’s Theater (but at greatly inflated prices). I decided to suck it up and fork over the (rather stunning amount of ) £60 to see the show, as several people had told me it was their production of the year – how could I give it short shrift?
Two nights later and I still feel bitter about this show and my misguided belief that it might ever have been possible to make a silk’s purse out of this sow’s ear. It was only a few years ago that I saw this play at The Duke of York’s, and I actually wasn’t eager to see this Arthur Miller work again. But now I can put my finger on a lot of what isn’t right with it. Neither Eddie Carbone, his wife or his niece seem like well-rounded characters; Carbone’s anger doesn’t make sense, wife Beatrice sees danger but is kept (by Miller) in the shade, and niece Catherine doesn’t seem to have nearly as much of an emotional connection to Rodolpho as she’s accused of.
But this production makes them even shallower and more unbelievable than they were written. Nobody sounds natural: these folks all have the accent of long term Brooklynites without a trace of their Italian ancestry. For the new arrivals from Sicily, the choice of thick American accents makes them cartoon cutouts – but then, Miller wrote them speaking English, somehow magically showing up in America completely fluent. And Catherine’s behavior, constantly leaping on her uncle and wrapping her legs around him – I found it just utterly unbelievable that any 17 year old would act this way. And putting her in skirts so short we in the audience could see her underwear as she crawled around the floor wiping up water – how much more did Van Hove need to sexualize Catherine? My stomach was turning a little bit. No wonder Beatrice saw fit to warn her that her behavior needed to change.
While the stark setting of this play (a grey low wall around 3/4 of the stage, a plain grey wall with an open door at the back, a chair) may have won it accolades, as I found myself caring less and less about the characters (as they receded from believability), I began to believe that it’s really just the setting that has convinced people that this show is great. It’s a real contrast with the National’s usual florid approach, but it’s hardly new to be stripped down, and it was done far more effectively for Belvoir Sydney’s Wild Duck. This play just doesn’t deserve the effort. Miller just wants to get to his plot points and his social pontification, to show “that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” But he does this lazily, with two dimensional people who become common (by dint of their poverty) without ever showing them enough care (as an author) to make them men. We, as an audience, get a stunt involving a chair being lifted off a stage and a final ending in which the cast is all showered in smelly, watered down red paint. All of this money and effort spent with so little result: truly, if ironically, this can be said to have been a tragic night out.
(This review is for a performance that took place on March 20, 2015. Seats in the front five rows and possibly even further back will suffer from having the actors’ faces frequently cut off by the low grey wall. It continues through April 11.)