In his strong directorial response to Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, Ivo Van Hove strips away all excess and ornamentation to reach the heart of Miller’s 1955 play, showing now at the Lyceum Theater on 45th Street. The Young Vic theater company’s production of A View From The Bridge is set in Brooklyn, at the home of an Italian immigrant family. Eddie, played by Mark Strong, is the father of the family, and is welcoming his Italian cousins to America, illegally hiding them in his house while helping them find work. His welcoming attitude soon disappears, however, when cousin Rodolfo, played by Luke Norris, falls for Eddie’s beloved niece Catherine, played by Phoebe Fox. The play is an examination of tense family dynamics and the American Dream, all tied up in a dramatic story of incest, homoeroticism, heartbreak, and tragedy.
Director Ivo Van Hove presents us with his rendition of Miller’s play reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, while at the same time showing us that he does not judge the characters actions, but rather presents them just as they are, with no attempt to mask their faults. His directorial style is unique in how he strives to depict the true, core meaning of the text he is working with. A View From The Bridge is anything but straightforward, however, and Van Hove’s decisions have us constantly questioning the relationships between the characters and the meaning of the words they speak.
Van Hove walks an interesting line between over-dramatizing his plays, and stripping them of all excess. This is highlighted by a minimalist, sparse set and light design by Jan Versweyveld and haunting sounds by Tom Gibbons. The set resembles a boxing ring, with a short wall surrounding the stage, and an overhanging “ceiling” used for lighting and water design. The set acts as a sort of sacred space, a shrine to project the fatal downfall of the tragic lead character, Eddie. The play opens with the image of a bathhouse, an homage to the ancient Greek tradition of men attending bathhouses. This also brings to mind the homoeroticism that is a theme throughout the play – ultimately resulting in Eddie aggressively kissing Rodolfo in an attempt to emasculate him, after catching Rodolfo and Catherine engaged in sexual activity. The bathhouse scene also acts as a baptism of the characters as water falls from the overhanging set above them, and they wash themselves away, before the audience finds out what it is they may need to cleanse themselves of.
The sacredness of the set is emphasized by the decision to remove the character’s shoes when they enter the stage. The stage is clearly removed from the outside world, and the actors make a conscious decision to enter the world of the play, by removing their shoes to walk on the stage. This separation between the world of the play and the real world is emphasized by the character of Alfieri, played by Michael Gould, who plays the role of narrator, and is the lawyer to the family. He is both removed from the script, by acting as an outsider looking in, and also enveloped in the script, as he is involved in Eddie’s eventual downfall.
The character of Alfieri was one that resonated with me, and I found him to be vital to my understanding of the play. The play revolves around an incredibly dysfunctional family, all with their own motives and ideas of what is right and wrong, making it difficult to follow the story at times. Each character is headstrong and felt very biased to me, so I often had trouble figuring out who was right, and whose side I should be on. Alfieri added an objective, third-party look at the family dynamics, allowing me to remove myself from the drama of the story, and think through things more clearly. In this way, Alfieri takes on the role of the Greek chorus , bridging the gap between characters and audience, allowing us to see the story in a new light. He comments on, advises, warns, and forecasts the eventual tragic ending, creating a suspense like no other.
The performance consists only of actors, light, and sound, with a stark absence of set and props. This emphasizes the tense relationships between the characters – most notably the relationship between Eddie his niece Catherine, played by Phoebe Fox. The energy between them pulsates with the beats of a drum, indicating the exact moments the audience should feel suspense. There is no excess and no attempt to hide the tense moments of the play, the moments that make us cringe and question the character’s morals. The suspense is all the more present in its inevitability. Alfieri makes it clear from the beginning of the play that this story does not end well, but there’s nothing we can do about it. For two hours, the audience is forced to the edge of their seats, dreading, but patiently waiting for, the inevitable tragedy of A View From The Bridge. And it might just be worth it, as Van Hove leaves us with a highly dramatized, spectacular ending image – one that shocks audience members and brings us back to the theme of the Greek tragedy.