As I took my seat for acclaimed director Ivo Van Hove’s production of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, I could see only a rectangular box of sorts on the stage—surrounded by audience members seated on benches on either side. This stark, minimalist presentation reflects Van Hove’s stripped down, Brechtian, and utterly gripping vision for Arthur Miller’s classic play. As the production opens, the box slowly lifts to reveal a grey, open space flanked by a glass border upon which the actors can sit. Though Jan Versweyveld’s set and An D’Huys costumes are artfully simple, they provide the backdrop for an evening of intense energy and uneasy tragic foreboding.
This engagement at Goodman Theatre marks the Chicago premiere of this staging originally conceived at the Young Vic in London. The show has also had previous runs on Broadway and in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. The cast here in Chicago, though, is comprised of almost entirely new players (with the exception of Andrus Nichols and Catherine Combs, who played Beatrice and Catherine, respectively, in the D.C. and L.A. engagements). Thus, the ferocious energy of Van Hove’s production remains firmly intact, for it is fresh with these performances. And though Van Hove’s production is considered a departure from more traditional stagings, his presentational style seems entirely rooted in the text. Actors often address the audience or walls instead of each other, and much of the staging feels like a comment on the action. This conception seems precisely in keeping with Miller’s text, which follows the tradition of Greek tragedy. The lawyer Alfieri serves here as a Greek chorus of one, providing the framework for the narrative of shipyard worker Eddie Carbone and his inappropriate infatuation with his niece Catherine, the daughter of his wife Beatrice’s late sister. The situation complicates when two of Beatrice’s relatives, the brothers Marco and Rodolpho, arrive from Italy to work at the shipyard and live at the Carbone household. Rodolpho and Catherine strike up a romance, sending Eddie into a spiral of despair.
As Alfieri, Ezra Knight provides a grounded presence among this group of fired up characters. Knight’s delivery appears calm but also gives that deliciously uneasy sense of the tragedy to come. The other actors around Knight come at the play ignited from the start, as befits their characters. Van Hove’s cast here (with Jeff James as associate director) make big, bold choices against the minimalist setting—and it works. The production initially paints some broad comic strokes, and then makes a swift and steep decline towards inevitable tragedy. Ian Bedford makes a necessarily fierce Eddie Carbone, and he has undeniable chemistry with Combs in the role of Catherine. From the moment Catherine leaps into Eddie’s arms at the beginning of the play, these two actors make it clear that this is not a relationship that should sit easily with audiences. Combs’ brilliant delivery also makes clear that she is not naïve and that she is implicit in this inappropriate relationship. This somehow makes Eddie’s spiral towards tragedy even more devastating, for we know he is not just bringing it upon himself. Nichols exudes simultaneous measures of passion and passiveness as Beatrice. In her performance, we see Beatrice’s intense need to be loved by her husband and yet we also see a woman who has learned to give up. Daniel Abeles exudes likability as Rodolpho, making it easy for us to see why Catherine is so drawn to his affections. Brandon Espinoza plays with Marco with a precise and quiet determination—he’s a man who wants deeply to provide for his family but also clings stubbornly to his pride.
Van Hove’s production also requires the entire ensemble to come together in interesting ways. This is a staging that requires the actors to deeply trust one another to take this VIEW to the heights that it must reach—and they pull it off. This apparently minimalist production also has a magnificently executed visual surprise that will leave audiences stunned. On the whole, this is a production that feels as if it is no-holds-barred. It’s boldly envisioned by Van Hove and boldly performed by the actors here at the Goodman. It’s a fierce and blazing starting to the new theater season.
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE runs through October 15 at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn. Tickets are $25-$95. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org or call 312.443.3800 for tickets and more information.
Photo by Liz Lauren