Although it has taken time, actually decades, Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” doesn’t need to convince us of its heroic stature and tragic eloquence. It is, however, so cloaked in hot-blooded passion and violent emotions that its universality becomes clouded by the author’s look into the life of Eddie Carbone, a poor Italian longshoreman, and his tragic obsession. Carbone’s credo is, indeed, based on limited and limiting ethnic patterns, but it is also very honest and real. Herein is the greatness and truth of Miller’s compassionate play. Despite his intellectual and sociological limitations Eddie’s truths are easily perceived as universal. The political implication made by Miller regarding betrayal in the light of the McCarthy hearings is a more subtly embedded theme.
Eddie (Liev Schreiber) harbors an incestuous attraction for Catherine (Scarlett Johansson), his mature, teenage niece who has been raised from infancy in his home. Eddie, blinded by this consuming passion, refuses to see the deterioration of his marriage to Beatrice (Jessica Hecht). The play’s setting is the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Alfieri (Michael Christopher), a local lawyer, serves as our guide, essentially taking the classic role of a Greek chorus. He is also a character in the play and an understanding counsel to the people of the neighborhood. Miller also uses him to add significance to the play’s theme of betrayal.
Any production of the play is obligated to stress the internal conflicts of these complex characters as much as their earthy physicality and ethnicity. Director Gregory Mosher has gotten most of these essentials right with a particular emphasis on the Brooklyn-ese as spoken by all with the exception of the recently arrived illegal immigrants Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector).
Schreiber, an amazing Tony award-winning actor who proves time and time again (“Talk Radio,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Betrayal”) that he can deliver a memorable and/or provocative performance, is splendid as the macho Italian-American who dominates his household. Schreiber brilliantly masks Eddie’s suppressed desires even as we see him being consumed by, but not able to admit, his feelings. It is a performance that is fueled by as many psychologically induced subtleties as it is defined by his mere presence.
Jessica Hecht, who was so touching previously this season in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” is apparently consigned to stay in Brooklyn. As Beatrice, the unloved but loving virtually martyred wife, she typifies the plight of the primo generation woman. Hecht illuminates each scene with her stifled heartbreaks and the desperate longing for her husband’s love.
Film star Scarlett Johansson is making a respectable enough Broadway debut as Catherine, the overly sheltered niece. Without exactly being convincing as a naive 17-year-old (with no help from an atrociously styled wig), Johansson finds moments of truth as Catherine attempts to break free from Eddie’s smothering and distorted love.
Morgan Spector gives an amusing if slightly tentative performance (he replaced Santino Fontana following an injury on January 7) that embraces Rodolpho’s distinct characteristics, particularly those that make Eddie doubt his masculinity. The play has always been a little ambiguous about the true motives of this too handsome blonde Sicilian who loves to sing, dance, and joke, and cuts dress patterns for his fiancee Catherine. Corey Stoll makes a good impression as Marco, Rodolpho’s strong, virile, protective older brother.
John Lee Beatty’s purposefully dreary revolving setting tells us all we need to know about the bleakness of the waterfront neighborhood, the drabness of Eddie’s home, and the sparseness of lawyer Alfieri’s office. As the lawyer, Christopher effectively keeps the narrative thread from sounding overly portentous. To the good, Mosher’s direction is neither intrusive nor pretentious, even as this always gripping play pivots between the incendiary melodramatic and the intensely poignant.
When Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” starring Van Heflin, first opened Off Broadway in 1955, sharing a double bill with the author’s “A Memory of Two Mondays,” the consensus from the critics was that it failed to measure up to his previous work, “Death of a Salesman.” Although firmly established as an American playwright of prominence with his award-winning “All My Sons” and “The Crucible,” Miller must have felt great pressure to produce another heroic tragedy. A later, more fleshed-out version in 1966 with Robert Duvall as Eddie Carbone was a success Off Broadway. In 1983 Broadway welcomed an effective production presented by Long Wharf Theater under the direction of Arvin Brown starring Tony LoBianco. ***
“A View From the Bridge,” Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street. $61.50 to $126.50. Tele-charge 212-239-6200.