A View From the Bridge

Scarlett Johanssen and Liev Schreiber in Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge”

When Arthur Miller’s play “A View From the Bridge” was first staged in 1955 as a one-act, it met with only moderate success. This was after the Pulitzer Prize for “Death of a Salesman” had already solidified his reputation as one of the most talented writers of the time, and only two years after the resounding success of “The Crucible.” So in 1956, one year after “A View From the Bridge” opened, Miller added second act and the one-act version was never seen again. The play is now considered to be one of his most notable works and has been performed over the last 50 years to much success, especially the 1987 production at the National Theatre in London starring Michael Gambon and the 1997 Tony Award-winning revival with Anthony LaPaglia, Allison Janney and the late Brittany Murphy. And while I never saw those productions, I think the casting director for the current production at the Cort Theatre struck the right notes with Liev Schreiber, Jessica Hecht and Scarlett Johansson in the roles of Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice and their niece Catherine.

When Catherine falls for Rodolpho, an immigrant cousin of Beatrice’s fresh off the boat from Italy, Eddie’s repressed jealousy and lust for his niece becomes increasingly difficult for him to contain. He seeks the counsel of a lawyer, laying out his evidence that Rodolpho, who sings and cooks and mends clothes “just ain’t right.” Unfortunately for Eddie, there’s no law in Brooklyn against pretty blonde men who are in touch with their feminine side. Eddie, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be in touch with any side of himself, and his refusal to examine the real motives behind his feelings, and eventually his actions, is what drives his lust to possession and ultimately to desperation and rage. In a final attempt to break up the impending marriage between Catherine and Rodolpho, he commits the same act he condemns in the beginning of the play and calls the Immigration Bureau.

But Rodolpho’s brother Marco is wise to Eddie and in their final fight he lets everyone know it. The neighbors gather around to watch as Marco puts a knife in Eddie’s chest, which is probably the best thing that could have happened to him at this point; The ostracism from his friends and family would have been far worse. Aside from his wife, the only person who laments Eddie’s death is the lawyer, who, in addressing the audience for the last time observes that most people live only half way and are never completely honest about themselves, and that’s why Eddie died, because he didn’t live halfway, “he allowed himself to be wholly known.”

I’m not sure I agree, but that’s one of the reasons why this play isn’t just about how hard it is to be poor and uneducated; Miller would never leave it there. Eddie was only wholly known because he got found out. Otherwise, I’d argue he would have been just fine with keeping things all wrapped up. And while he may be simpleminded, he’s also complicated in a way that I can’t imagine anyone capturing better than Liev Schreiber. It would have been so easy to play Eddie as the loudmouthed longshoreman, but Schreiber’s performance is much more subtle and provocative. His moping and moodiness are in perfect contrast to Johansson’s Catherine, who’s forever trying to be happy or least trying to put on a show of everything being alright. Johansson’s performance is never contained to simply playing the female at the other end of the male gaze we so often see her limited to in film. Catherine is fully realized, not just a mixed up 17-year-old girl, and Johansson’s command of the role is in perfect balance to Schreiber and the rest of the very excellent cast.