A brutal parable for the season of Trump, director Ivo van Hove’s pared-back production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge — playing into February at the Lyceum — depicts the paranoid mindset of aggrieved patriarchy. It’s a timely tragedy: a reminder of how easily wounded pride can mutate into xenophobic aggression.
Van Hove’s x-ray vision — he sees past convention and cliché — has made him one of the finest contemporary interpreters of midcentury American realism. He has unleashed raging subtext in Hellman, Williams, and O’Neill. His key insight here is that A View From the Bridge isn’t one man’s tragedy. Its ultimate import doesn’t reside in the fiercely uncompromising — and completely misplaced — stand taken by its doomed protagonist; it’s in the corrosive effect of misdirected male rage on the whole social world of the play. (The titular bridge ought to be something a little more phallic.)
Set in the tribal society of 1950s Italian-American Brooklyn, Miller’s play tells a deliberately antique story of human law confronted with primeval imperatives: lacerated honor, ungoverned lust. It even has a chorus, the world-weary lawyer Alfieri (Michael Gould).
Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong), a rugged longshoreman, leads a life of hard work conducted according to rigid principles. He extends a gruff welcome to a pair of distant relations: Marco (Michael Zegen) and Rodolpho (Russell Tovey), undocumented migrants fleeing penury and misery back in Italy. But Rodolpho is too vivacious for Eddie’s blinkered worldview: He sings and kids around, likes nice clothes, and wants to see the Broadway lights. Worse, he attracts the eye of Catherine (Phoebe Fox), Eddie’s niece, adopted daughter — and, it quickly becomes clear, more. From the moment you see Strong enfold Fox’s Catie in a quasi-coital embrace, hoisting her into the air like a doll, you know his passion exceeds the merely paternal.
Seething, fearful that Catie will escape his grasp, Carbone resorts to the classic torments of the affronted alpha male: He attempts to impugn Rodolpho’s masculinity, suggesting that the young man might be homosexual — and forcibly kissing him to “prove” it. And, since the two cousins are illegal aliens, he can surrogate his diminished virility with nativist revenge. The tragedy that follows is doubly political: illustrating the interwoven malice of male power in a patriarchy and the citizen’s power over the refugee. Eddie’s vendetta only begets more violence.
Stripping away the external appurtenances of the play’s setting — no brownstone stoops or boat whistles here — van Hove concentrates on its ritualized expressions of masculinist culture. The entire production takes place within the claustrophobic confines of a rectangular enclosure in austere black-and-white, evoking a boxing ring, but also a tomb. A moment of competitive powerlifting becomes a ceremonial celebration of raw strength. Ignoring conventional markers of space and time, van Hove concocts a steadily mounting pressure: Characters practically trip over each other, packed closer and closer together as their emotions boil over.
The production’s starkly beautiful final image unites the cast in mutual culpability. At once a contorted struggle and a deathly embrace, it brings together two perennial old-world themes: classicism’s rational harmony and the violent mythology it disciplines.
As another blustering voice preaches salving American pride by persecuting the vulnerable, we should keep van Hove’s cautionary tableau in mind: Treading down the weak, we stumble and fall together.
A View From the Bridge
By Arthur Miller
149 West 45th Street