Thursday, January 21, 2016

This Is Not A 'View' You Want To See

Sometimes Broadway makes us just scratch our heads in wonderment.
You must know what those times are like, right?
When you've paid a huge ticket price for something that's been called "absolutely astonishing" and you find yourself thinking: "Wha . . . . ?"
When you've looked forward to seeing a new interpretation of a classic (but not too new) and you discover that now it's no longer anything like you remember it?
When you've got great seats and you expect something scintillating and mesmerizing and darn near thrilling only to discover that your main concern becomes just how uncomfortable the seat is or just how glaring and depressing the set seems.
Ok, look -- Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge is not a cheerful show.
We knew that. We understood that. We studied this Miller play and nearly all of his works thoroughly in American Literature class in college. And then we saw an outstanding production of the play (faithfully produced and in context) with the late, great Richard Castellano in the lead role as Eddie Carbone, a rough, burly, dockworker in Brooklyn's hardscrabble Red Hook neighborhood of the 1950s. The time and the context are critical to the understanding of the drama and if you see a production of the show as Miller meant for it to be produced, you'll understand why.
But the current production of this play (now at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway) from Britain's Young Vic Company is no such production. Under the direction Ivo Von Hove the play is literally and figuratively stripped bare. It begins with two half-naked dock workers rinsing off their not-quite-ripped bodies in a stark, sanitary environment (a large, brightly-lit white box) and it ends -- well, you don't really want to know how it ends. Let's just say that it ends with the only gimmicky special effect of the entire evening. Here's a hint: There's a drain in the floor of the box/stage and we don't know why it's there until the big, sloppy ending.
Anyway, this production has no props whatsoever. None.
Which is to say that there's no set except for the big white box that the players move around in. The characters have no costumes to speak of, either. They move about in ordinary street clothes (rather dreary looking outfits) except that they don't wear shoes or socks. They remain barefooted the entire time. Don't ask us why. We still don't know why.
Also, the characters in this version are compressed into a stage/box that is about one-third the size of the actual Lyceum stage. The other two-thirds of the stage (on either side of the box) is taken up by bleachers for audience members. So, save for the back wall, this almost seems like a production in the round with audience members in the scene on the right and the left. Meanwhile, since they can't enter or leave from the right or the left, all of the players appear and disappear through a simple, bare opening in the center of the back wall.
The characters move about and deliver their lines almost like robotic pieces on a magnetized metal slab. Don't misunderstand. They have a lot of emotion and there's plenty of shouting and gesticulating over the course of this long production which plays without interruption. But it's all sort of starngely over wrought. And, while all this is going on there are weird, piercing sounds playing in the background. Why? Maybe some of these are supposed to be sounds associated with the docks, but we're not entirely sure what they are. Are the sounds there to create added tension or mystery or intrigue or what? Your guess is as good as ours.
As originally written by Miller, the play is set in an Italian American neighborhood near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. It employs a chorus and narrator in the character of Alfieri, a lawyer. Eddie, the tragic protagonist, has an improper love of, and almost obsession with, Catherine who is his niece and adopted daughter.
Miller's interest in writing about the world of the New York docks originated with an unproduced screenplay that he developed with Elia Kazan in the early 1950s (entitled The Hook) that addressed corruption on the Brooklyn docks. Kazan later directed On the Waterfront, which dealt with the same subject. Miller said that he heard the basic account that developed into the plot of A View from the Bridge from a lawyer who worked with longshoremen, who related it to him as a true story.
This production (which runs through February 21) has been called everything from "thrilling" to "magnificent" to "exquisite" and "profound."
But, even though this production has given us an insight into what appear to be current theatrical trends, we still have to call it unfaithful, manipulative and gimmicky.
Oh yes, we understand that Eddie's story is a complete tragedy -- a classic tragedy. We get it that it's sort of like a Greek tragedy and that theoretically it can be performed just as the ancient Greeks might have performed Aeschylus or Euripides. But we're not in Greece and the play takes place in the middle of the 20th century in America.
And, absent the desire to be "unique," what's this interpretation doing on Broadway in 2016?
Bottom line: Don't waste your time, or money.

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