National Theatre of Great Britain’s View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller

By Bob Hoover

The filmed version of this 2015 production, shown Oct. 3 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, seems like an artifact from long ago when unmasked audiences sat within feet of the stage as actors embraced and kissed.

Controversial in its day, this production has lost some of its shock in light of the events of the last six years, including the violence at the U.S. Capital Jan. 6. Rage powers this uneven work by a playwright experimenting with neorealism after a career grounded in conventional American theater.

Arthur Miller first produced a one-act View From the Bridge in 1955 and expanded it into two acts a year later. With echoes of the film, On the Waterfront, Miller set his work on the Brooklyn docks where Eddie Carbone labors in a struggle to support his wife Beatrice and her orphaned niece Catherine, 17 when the play opens.

Tension builds when Beatrice’s two Sicilian cousins jump ship to escape their country’s poverty and she takes them in. Eddie and Catherine have a disturbing physical closeness, leaving Beatrice without her husband’s attentions. When Catherine finds Rodolpho, the younger cousin closer to her age, attractive, Eddie’s anger builds into the inevitable violence.

Miller is trying to elevate his tale of working-class Brooklyn into a Greek tragedy of lives torn apart by lust and jealously. He uses a chorus of one, Alfieri, a family lawyer, to narrate the tale and set the stage for Eddie’s doom.

Directed by the avant-garde Ivo van Hove, this View From the Bridge had, highly praised runs in London and New York. Van Hove stripped the play to essentials, including a minimalist set that is either a claustrophobic cell or a boxing ring, and pushed his actors to a fever pitch where no one speaks in normal tones. Eddie and Catherine grope each other uncomfortably.

But in emphasizing Eddie’s dangerous confusion, van Hove ignored Miller’s disinterest in his female characters. They’re stereotypes to Eddie’s archtype. The climax is rushed amid too much shouting and arm-waving which makes the famous gruesome ending in a shower of blood seem excessive for excess’s sake.

Measured against Miller’s other work, View From the Bridge is a play in search of a clear meaning. Van Hove chose the most obvious one – lack of insight – to stress. I haven’t seen his production of West Side Story, but I’d like to find out if he used the same concept.

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