(l-r) Catherine Combs, Ian Bradford, and Andrus Nichols
Belgian Director Ivo Van Hove adorns an uber-minimalist lens for A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, currently at The Goodman Theatre. This unusual interpretation of Arthur Miller’s classic exhibits both moments of brilliance and discomfort, but it fails to live up to the gut-churning catharsis of the American drama that resonates with the common American. It’s got the smarts. In turn, it loses its sublime simplicity.
What makes Miller’s characters so genuinely tragic is their inability to learn from their suffering. Here, Eddie, much like DEATH OF A SALESMAN’s Willy, flounders — stuck between his own pride and his desperate desire to regain control. Under the rules of the minimalist portrayal in this production, however, the struggle seems reduced to a few talking heads lacking the physical and vocal engagement that their words demand. The actors that handle and embrace their limitations most fluidly are Daniel Abeles and Brandon Espinoza, who portray the immigrant pair. Catherine Combs also delivers some powerful moments as young Catherine which are wonderfully assisted by the mere physical casting choice of stature: her petite frame engulfed by that of Ian Bedford’s towering Eddie. Both a blessing and a curse, the overcalculated meaning behind each word is meticulously explored. A European cultural understanding of human nature seeps through the cracks in the phrasing, the restraint in emotion, the long pauses designed to say more than the words themselves. This works brilliantly in a scene soundtracked by the ticking of some device that measures time much slower than a regular clock. In this scene, the discomfort of the elephant in the room layers on thick. In this scene, the ticker might as well be that of a bomb. In this scene, the execution is flawless.
Minimalism helps strip a production to its raw state. As Richard Bach says, “The simplest things are often the truest.” But in this production, there are a couple of design elements that brought more questions than answers. Particularly the set which resembles more of a Manhattan Highrise veranda equipped with plexiglass sides than the slums of Brooklyn Bridge, and the costumes hint more of white-collar workers than dirty shore laborers, all adding to a strange anachronistic feel. Even if it doesn’t quite work for the play as a whole, there is a payoff to this look at the end, when it serves as the canvas for a desperate tortured scrum, a time-defying echo of a hollowed silent screech frozen under a bloody rainfall.
This production is a remount of several successful runs in other parts of the world. I can see it having a bigger impact on audiences in Europe, even in New York where theatre and Broadway carry around a sense of higher status. For the Midwesterner and our gritty interpretation of suffering, this particular remake feels more of an imitation of something that was once really solid. As if it’s not meant for the people who it is about.
September 23rd, 2017