In the Moment: ‘A View From the Bridge’ at The Kennedy Center

Even having inklings of what to expect, there was no protecting myself from the shattering production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge at the Kennedy Center. I don’t think even wearing a Kevlar vest could have reduced the immobilizing final impact of the two-time 2016 Tony Award–winning production of Miller’s A View From the Bridge.

L to R: Alex Esola, Catherine Combs, Frederick Weller, Danny Binstock, Andrus Nichols, Howard W. Overshown, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Dave Register. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.
L to R: Alex Esola, Catherine Combs, Frederick Weller, Danny Binstock, Andrus Nichols, Howard W. Overshown, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Dave Register. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Directed by Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge is a primal, tragic, operatic journey that freshly illuminates dark places for a play first staged in the mid-1950’s. (And it’s context of illegal immigrants coming to America for jobs and a better life were certainly not lost of me, given the recent elections.)

Van Hove’s strong hand also shows in the actors’ demanding, soul-wrenching, what must be utterly exhausting performances. The production is far from just a tale of family, love, and betrayal that takes place in 1950s New York City, in a small Italian-American Brooklyn enclave. (let me mix media here, there were sensations through-out my evening at the Kennedy Center that crept into me like viewing The Godfather Part II on a big screen).

A View From the Bridge is full of kisses, seen and unseen. There are kisses of betrayal. Kisses of love. Kisses that should not be. Kisses to suggest that someone “is not right.” There are kisses disguised as spits. There are exquisite scenes of total isolation. There are crushing scene of absolute controlled hysteria.

And all are underpinned by a music and soundscape (by Tom Gibbons) that never stops; quite like ominous drums in the night but without the percussive drumming. The unsettling set design and moody lighting by Jan Versweyveld made a quietly severe statement the moment I walked into the Eisenhower Theater.

The production is narrated by a Greek chorus of one; a lawyer named Alfiere (Thomas Jay Ryan with a slow, deliberate cadence as he circles the action until he too steps into the on-stage events). Alfiere sets the show up by describing how second-generation immigrants are becoming more American and willing to “settle for half” [half measures] of American law and justice to settle their disputes. There is one exception and that is the crux of A View From the Bridge.

The exception is longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller in an expressive performance with his words emphasized either by the movements of a skilled, lithe dancer, an aggressive middle-weight boxer who can throw a punch  or a patient not unlike Tony Soprano, sitting in a chair slumped while his therapist tries to reason with him to no avail). Eddie is way over-protected, if not obsessed, with his 17-year-old orphan niece Catherine (Catherine Combs who skillfully maneuvers her role on the cusp of young innocent trying on being a sensual young woman by wearing a pair of heels or swinging her hips or the tone of her voice). Catherine has lived for many years with Eddie and his lonely for intimacy wife Beatrice (the excellent Andrus Nichols).

Catherine begins to fall in love with an illegal immigrant from Italy named Rodolpho (Dave Register) who has arrived with his brother Marco (Alex Esola who makes slow deliberate seething of a physically powerful man a highlight). Eddie becomes enraged as Catherine and Rodolpho plan to marry. His unstoppable jealousy even in the face of being told “let her go” lead to immense damage on Earth, even if only “God makes justice.”

Frederick Weller and Catherine Combs. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.
Frederick Weller and Catherine Combs. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

The production of A View From the Bridge is like a torpedo that has left a submarine with no way to stop it. I was its target. I could see its wake coming toward me, I could not do anything about it, nor do I want to do anything to stop it from crashing into me. I was exhausted as I slowly rose from my seat to give applause. I also walked back to my car and wondered who will write and produce the stories of illegal immigrants now in America with the power of Arthur Miller’s words and Van Hove’s force. Those current Marco’s and Rodolpho’s, here for jobs and a better life, sending money home to their families. I hope they do better than Eddie to “settle for half.”

If you crave intense adult theater with a take-no-prisoners impact, than by all means grab a ticket to A View From the Bridge. I found it so very cathartic in these days of political and cultural uncertainty. Miller’s words about why Italian illegal immigrants would risk coming to America given the devastation in their county at the time (1950s), and how they feel about that journey is so very prescient and timely to hear once again.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with no intermission.

A View From the Bridge plays through Saturday, December 3, 2016, in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

Note: Recommended for age 14 and up.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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