Monday, January 25, 2010

A View From the Bridge

GRADE: B+


Photo by Sara Krulwich
By Arthur Miller. Directed by Gregory Mosher. At the Cort Theatre through April 2010.

Scarlett Johansson gets raves for her Broadway debut. Even the dissenting opinion (Guardian, Financial Times) acknowledges that her work exceeds the celebrity-showcase standard set by other film starlets such as Jennifer Garner and Julia Roberts. Meanwhile, Liev Schreiber's meticulous, aggressively subtle style finds another match in Arthur Miller's working-class tragedy about a Red Hook dock worker whose desire for his niece leads him to betray everyone else. Critics acknowledge some weaknesses in the storytelling -- some want more of a tragic punch by the end while others find the story something-less-than-Greek in its scope and depth. That aside, most applaud Michael Christofer as the laywer-narrator-chorus device/character.


Wall Street Journal A
(Terry Teachout) The play itself isn't even slightly profound, but it is, almost alone in Miller's oeuvre, largely devoid of pseudopoetry and wholly to the dramatic point, and Mr. Mosher, who has returned at last to Broadway after a decade-long absence, has staged it with a lean, clean, deceptively soft-spoken intensity that pulls you straight to the edge of your seat and keeps you there until you get up to go home. Fold in the dead-center acting of a first-string cast led by Liev Schreiber and you get a production so hard-hitting that you'll want to see it twice—assuming that you can get tickets, which I very much doubt.

New York Times A
(Ben Brantley) I had wondered if “Bridge” really needed another revival. New York saw a first-rate production only a dozen years ago, directed by Michael Mayer, with Anthony LaPaglia, Allison Janney and the young Brittany Murphy (who died at 32 last year). But this latest incarnation makes the case that certain plays, like certain operas, are rich enough to be revisited as often and as long as there are performers with strong, original voices and fresh insights ... Mr. Schreiber is such a complete actor that he has often thrown productions into imbalance, highlighting the inadequacy of the performances around him. That is not a problem here. That the excellent stage veteran Ms. Hecht holds her own with Mr. Schreiber is no surprise. That Ms. Johansson does — with seeming effortlessness — is.

Variety A
(David Rooney) Sometimes it's high praise to call a stage director's work invisible. The compliment applies to Gregory Mosher's searing revival of "A View From the Bridge," though it by no means indicates any lack of craftsmanship or insight. Returning to Broadway after a considerable absence, Mosher has instilled in his outstanding cast an unconditional trust in Arthur Miller's text, evoking a time, a place and a 1950s blue-collar community with penetrating integrity. Each scene flows seamlessly from the one before in a production that expertly plants the seeds of inexorable tragedy yet grips with a tension and volatility that make every moment seem unpredictable.

Backstage A
(David Sheward) Now Liev Schreiber, one of the few American star-level actors to return to the stage on a regular basis, sinks his teeth into this meaty steak of a character and has a regular feast. His Eddie has a vulnerability and thoughtfulness often overlooked. You can tell he not only harbors sexual urges for his wife's niece Catherine but also loves her like a father. These conflicting emotions play across Schreiber's face as Catherine explains her growing love for Rodolpho, an illegal immigrant the family is protecting ... Scarlett Johansson matches Schreiber's intensity as the inexperienced but determined Catherine. This film star makes an impressive Broadway debut, clearly conveying what this girl wants—to be a grown woman—and pushing against the only obstacle in her path: her overly attentive uncle ... Director Gregory Mosher wisely keeps the staging simple so the dramatic fireworks blaze all the brighter. Set designer John Lee Beatty's row of brownstones towers over the players like a menacing giant as they enact this modern version of a Greek tragedy.

Time Out New York A
(Adam Feldman) The fateful plot unspools as it must, with a helpless lawyer (the superbly troubled Michael Cristofer) serving as the chorus; the surprises come not from the story, but from the way that Miller conflates the older strains of the plot with newer psychological insights about the strata of masculinity. (Eddie’s obsessive suspicions that Rodolpho is “not right” sexually are projections of his own impotence and guilt.) Johansson does fine work as the ripening apple of domestic discord, and the excellent Jessica Hecht is touching as Eddie’s hectoring wife, Beatrice. But this is ultimately Schreiber’s play, and his hooded emotionality—first guarded, then blubbering—is exquisitely matched to Eddie’s self-deflating sense of manhood: menacing in simmer but pathetic in boil.

Washington Post A
(Peter Marks) Surely the production, which had its official opening Sunday night at the Cort Theatre, is one of the most satisfying evenings of Miller in memory ... Schreiber is nothing short of remarkable as Eddie ... He manages to make Eddie's decisions -- whether to pick up a phone and dial immigration, or to lash out in an act of sexual frustration -- seem the explosive products of an urge beyond the control of the intellect ... The surprising achievement belongs to Johansson, who proves to be capable of far more than collaborating in eyebrow-raising star casting. She's got the broad vowels and engaging innocence for Catherine, and she makes you believe in the teenager's flickering awareness of Eddie's inappropriate attraction. And even after Catherine's allegiance shifts to Rodolpho, the actress allows you to appreciate fully the pull she still feels toward Eddie, how, perhaps, that might have deepened Eddie's confusion. The acumen on display raises the Cort's thermostat from what might have been coolly sobering to positively scorching. You'll leave, happy to have felt the theatrical heat.

USA Today A
(Elysa Gardner) Johansson disappears so completely into the role of Catherine, the plucky but na├»ve niece of a longshoreman, that you won't stop to consider the qualities that make her distinctly suited to the part. Only afterward will you likely realize the actress's youthful sensuality and capacity for good-natured goofiness constitute a perfect fit for this sheltered 17-year-old struggling to come to terms with her effect on men — her uncle, in particular ... Where some directors wax operatic trying to convey Miller's intricate morality and heated humanism, Gregory Mosher opts for a more naturalistic approach. Michael Cristofer, playing a local lawyer who doubles as the play's narrator, alternately participating in the action and reflecting on it, provides a tone that's at once conversational and theatrical ... Johansson and Schreiber make the tension between Eddie and Catherine excruciatingly poignant, by showing us there's still great affection between this misguided man and the woman he can no longer love like a child.

Village Voice A-
(Michael Feingold) Memorable Eddies have come in all shapes and sizes; the latest, Schreiber, ranks very high on the list. Everything's hidden; Schreiber's gift for letting you see what he's not showing matches this role perfectly, as does his burly physical presence. He gets especially strong support from Johansson, clearly an actress of skill and presence, not merely another two-dimensional puff pastry. Mosher makes one or two odd slips: He rushes the epilogue, slightly dampening the effect of Cristofer's intriguing, broken-rhythmed Alfieri, and he lets Hecht fall into the most common trap for actresses playing Bea, which is playing Eddie's negative view of her. Even so, the staging builds powerfully; John Lee Beatty's set and Peter Kaczorowski's lighting are exceptionally evocative.

New York Post A-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) While it may sound odd to say so of something featuring betrayals and brutal death, the show that opened at the Cort last night is wickedly entertaining: Those two hours fly by. There are flaws (John Lee Beatty's set is literally creaky, for one), but the toned-down approach of director Gregory Mosher and his cast pays off. Largely it's because the performances successfully look inward, avoiding cheap, crowd-baiting histrionics -- and "A View From the Bridge" certainly has potential for those.

New York Observer B+
(Jesse Oxfeld) As directed by Gregory Mosher, this View From the Bridge is intense, emotional, physical and moving. It’s impressively economical—every line, movement, reaction exists only to build the tension to what Miller, in a foreword to the script, calls Eddie’s inevitable “catastrophe.” The only times it slackens—and this is Miller’s fault, not Mr. Mosher’s—is when Mr. Alfieri, Eddie’s lawyer, shows up to once more explain what’s going on. It’s unnecessary, and it takes you out of the story. It also prompts the question: When an attorney follows you around all day to explicate the implicit, does he charge an hourly fee or a retainer?

Gothamist B+
(John Del Signore) Her performance feels wholly authentic and earned, and during her anguished love scene I could see tears streaking her cheeks. You can fake that on film, but not on stage. The rest of the ensemble has soft spots ... Thankfully, Schreiber's portrayal of Carbone is so lived-in, so visceral, that he more than makes up for the cast's weaknesses. Carbone does something despicable, but you never see Schreiber judging his character, and his empathetic take on the role humanizes Carbone's monstrous deed. I'm a standing ovation purist, and think the gesture should be limited to only the most phenomenal performances, but I jumped to my feet along with the rest of the audience when Schreiber took his bow.

The Faster Times B+
(Jonathan Mandell) It is the siren call of Catherine’s beauty that drives what Miller intended as a twentieth century American update of an ancient Greek tragedy, the story of a man who loves his niece in the wrong way, and it is the lure of Scarlett Johansson on the stage that makes “A View From The Bridge” worth seeing. She is not the only reason. The rest of the cast collectively transport us back to the working-class Brooklyn of the 1950’s. Liev Schreiber’s performance in particular is sure to get high marks all around, and there are a number of surprising performances (though at least one was not a good surprise). John Lee Beatty’s set, which shows a tenement skyline that is almost majestic in its grubbiness, and then revolves to reveal the modest interior of the characters’ home, helps to emphasize that this is a story of plain people caught up in high tragedy. In the end, though, it remains a struggle, if not a stretch, to consider this play the unassailable modern classic that some people seem to be proclaiming it.

Theatre Mania B+
(David Finkle) It's a large credit to Mosher that every one of Miller's down-to-earth, yet-larger-than-life characters -- including neighborhood lawyer Alfieri (Michael Cristofer), who narrates the unrelentingly downbeat tale -- is profoundly etched ... From the instant Schreiber's Eddie scuffs in to join a coin-pitching game with two fellow workers (Robert Turano and Joe Ricci), the actor has every nuance in place for his depiction of a morally conflicted man who is imprisoned by illicit desires but damned if he's going to cop to them ... While the play never packs less than a knock-out dramatic punch, it does have its weaknesses. It's one thing to use Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and colleagues as models, but it's quite another to keep calling attention to the tactic.

New York Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) If the play's overstated narrative structure and bald symbolism (including a girl fetching and lighting her uncle's cigar) keep it from being on Miller's A-list (and they do), those weaknesses recede in Gregory Mosher's exceptionally well-acted, well-staged revival ... It's an outer-borough tragedy, ancient columns not included. Schreiber may be playing a surrogate Greek hero, but it's down-to-earth honesty that makes his work so gripping. Johansson's acting is dynamic yet understated. Movie stars like her are summoned to Broadway because they draw attention to the box office. On stage, though, she blends in beautifully with the cast.

Financial Times B
(Brendan Lemon) Is there another New York-based actor who can talk tough on-stage better than Liev Schreiber? ... Making her Broadway bow, Johansson generates minimal inner life and looks slightly odd with dark hair. Yet she provides a headier dose of theatrical Viagra than did another Broadway debutante, Nicole Kidman, a decade ago in The Blue Room at this same theatre, the Cort ... Insisting that concerns of basic justice and honour be paramount, Mosher stages Bridge unfussily. His concept, in essence, is his casting. Fortunately for him, Michael Cristofer, as the lawyer narrator, sounds the right notes of tragic inevitability, and Morgan Spector, as the artistic Rodolpho, makes an impression.

The Guardian UK C+
(Alexis Soloski) the neighbourhood attorney Alfieri, played by Michael Cristofer, assures the audience that "this is Red Hook, not Sicily," and that its inhabitants "are quite civilized, quite American. Now we settle for half, and I like it better." Mosher appears to take Alfieri at his word, offering a lucid, no-nonsense version of the script that somehow doesn't give its all. It moves rapidly from scene to scene (though one wishes he didn't so often rely on tacky rotating scenery to get from one to the next), and checks actorly tendencies toward indulgence. Yet Mosher harnesses little of the show's power. One shouldn't fault Schreiber, who lends Eddie a lumbering sensuality, and portrays a man beset by emotions he can't acknowledge or articulate. He's best in his most physical scenes, channeling his malice and despair into violence. He's ably supported by Jessica Hecht, as his careworn wife, and by the grainy voiced Cristofer as his ineffectual adviser. Johansson, who sports tight sweaters and nipped-waist dresses, toils to master her character's speech and posture, ably capturing the flat tones and "wavy walk" of a working-class girl advancing on womanhood. But she never quite conveys Catherine's ambivalence and distress.

Talkin' Broadway C-
(Matthew Murray) [F]or most of the first act, when Catherine is longing to escape the oppression of poor Brooklyn, Johansson convinces as a ripe Italian girl unsure of what options she really has. But when Catherine meets Eddie’s distant relatives from the old country, Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector), and blooms in the light of Rodolpho’s apparent love, Johansson still seems like the same pre-wilted flower. In neither voice nor manner does she progress beyond the lost girl of the opening scenes, which throws the rest of the story into turmoil ... Schreiber cannot cite stage inexperience as an excuse for his own one-note portrayal ... as long as Eddie is no more than the loving but lumbering lout who’s sacrificing everything he is for his family’s future, Schreiber is in complete command of the character’s brusque devotion and resigned world-weariness. The trick of the play, however, is that isn’t the real Eddie. A bigoted nationalist whose feelings for Catherine constantly threaten to transcend avuncular affection, Eddie’s truly an ugly stereotype given skyscraper stature so that Miller’s warnings about the importance of United States unity may unfold unimpeded. Schreiber, unfortunately, never goes the full way. His Eddie gets angrier and darker, yes, but never becomes big enough to consume the whole country. By the end of the play, when Eddie must face down Marco for control over his family (and by extension his homeland), Schreiber’s glimmering smolder is simply not sufficient for consuming him - let alone us - in the mythic conflagration Miller intended.

Wall Street Journal A 13; NYTimes A 13; Variety A 13; Backstage A 13; Time Out New York A 13; Washington Post A 13; USA Today A 13; Village Voice A- 12; NY Post A- 12; NY Observer B+ 11; Gothamist B+ 11; The Faster Times B+ 11; Theatre Mania B+ 11; NY Daily News B+ 11; Financial Times B 10; The Guardian UK C+ 8; Talkin' Broadway C- 6. TOTAL: 194/17 = 11.4 (B+)

2 comments:

Ryan said...

"meticulous, aggressively subtle style" is a pretty perfect description of Liev's work overall. Looking forward to seeing it.

Sildenafil said...

even though Scarlett Johansson looks weird with red hair, her performance is remarkable, I got used to see her with blond hair, but she is still beautiful as a red hair girl