Sunday, January 24, 2010

"A View from the Bridge" at Cort Theatre

After a hummus dinner, JF and I watched this Arthur Miller revival, directed by Gregory Mosher, at the Cort. Liev Schreiber was a terrific Eddie Carbone, dense, powerful, inarticulate, very human. You see the Italian American longshoreman unable to admit his attraction for his niece Catherine, and unable to let her go to the Italian illegal immigrant Rodolpho, whom Eddie thinks is "not right," meaning homosexual. Scarlett Johansson was adequate as Catherine, but hardly revelatory. Her independence from her guardian was not achieved but merely happened in the second act. Morgan Spector as Rodolpho was charming but not winning. All my sympathy was directed towards Eddie and little towards Rodolpho. Jessica Hecht was a very convincing Beatrice, a scolding pinched wife, torn between jealousy of Catherine and protectiveness of the girl, and ultimately a helpless spectator of her husband's dive into self-destruction.

The pacing of Act One felt slow. When Eddie kissed Rodolpho to prove to Catherine the Italian was not a real man, the scene was not electrifying the way it was in another production I watched (was it at Oxford?).  Perhaps I have gotten used to seeing two men kiss, in art and in life, as have contemporary audiences, and so the the charge of a taboo broken was weaker. But I think the scene's lack of power was also partly due to its staging. Eddie bent over Rodolpho on the dinner table to kiss him, which feels less violating than romantic or even domestic. In the other production, both men on their feet, Eddie grasped Rodolpho's head in his powerful hands and raped him with his mouth. It is an indelible image.

The second act heated up. The public telephone, which remained visible on stage throughout, became the incongruous site of Eddie's tragic destiny, when he called the Immigration hounds on the illegals. The denouement, a fight between Marco (Rodolpho's brother played by a likable Corey Stoll) and Eddie, ended short and sharp in the knifing of Eddie. It was a poignant moment, especially when Eddie, dying on the ground, turned away from Catherine's sobs and looked for Bea, who embraced him. Sentimental, perhaps, but powerful stuff.

The lawyer Alfieri (played by Michael Cristofer who has a great voice) concluded the play with words that still ring in my ears: that Eddie was pure, "purely himself," because he "lets himself be wholly known." The modern twist on the old Greek imperative "Know thyself" is apt. The difficulty in our overly refined age is not to know, but to be who we are. That conclusion receives another layer of meaning when we remember that the play was written in the McCarthy era, two years after "The Crucible." Given the latent homo-eroticism in "Bridge," to let oneself be wholly known was also the problem of the modern homosexual.

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