I first heard of director Ivo van Hove from a New Yorker article by Rebecca Mead, published back in October of 2015. Painted as a carrier of the avant-garde theatre tradition, van Hove was presented to me as a re-interpreter, a visionary. Since reading that article, I have wanted nothing more than to experience van Hove's work first-hand; and so I found myself at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, confronted with his interpretation of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge.
first encountered this less-popular Miller work in college, when my
acting professor decided she had to see me embody the role of Eddie
Carbone, the Brooklyn longshoreman and over-protective guardian of
his niece, Catherine. We did
a few scenes in class. I had the sense I wasn't quite right for
Eddie, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I now realize that,
perhaps, my professor's
interpretation of the play
may have been off.
The revival on tour
now, produced by Britain's Young Vic, begins with a Requiem,
specifically the one by
Gabriel Fauré. It's a
recurring theme in the piece. To start a piece with a Requiem
is to force the audience to ask the question, Who (or what) is dead?
A View From the Bridge
does not begin at a funeral; rather, in Ivo van Hove's version, it
what appears to be a sauna, with the lawyer Alfieri narrating over
the image of two workers toweling off after a long shift. The
homo-erotic nature of the image cannot be overlooked.
conflicts of A View From the Bridge form
a triangle. There is the discomfort of the potential for
homosexuality in the mid-century. There is the problem of the
over-protective father figure who may be too much in love with his
ward. And, most resonant in the current socio-political environment,
the various sides of the die that is illegal immigration.
been unavoidable lately, the topic of immigration. In the U.S., the
battle cry has been clumsily raised by current Republican
presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose calls for building a wall,
exclusion of people on religious grounds, and deportation of millions
rocked the lives of many around the world. A View From the
Bridge humanizes all the players
in that drama, forcing the
audience to empathize with the struggles of the immigrants and those
who protect them. According
to Arthur Miller, the plot of the play is cribbed directly from a
story told to him by a dockworker “who
had known Eddie's prototype.”
At the time the story was
related to him, Miller says
he decided not to write a play about it because it was complete
already; there was nothing new to add. He
thought better of it. Here
was a story that needed telling.
the author's preface to the Penguin edition,
Miller notes that he was aware an austere staging was necessary for
the play. At its debut,
however, he felt that
the creative team (himself
included) was unable to
deliver such a
treatment, since none of them had the experience or
training to do so. Ivo van
Hove seems to have taken
that football and run with it, so
to speak, stripping the play
down to its essence and forcing the audience to become the crowd that
Miller thought was so vital to the initial London performance, staged
by Peter Brook.
set by van Hove's partner Jan
Versweyveld is an opaque box
as the audience filters in, like
a magic trick waiting to be unleashed.
Seating for the audience is
provided on the stage on either side in addition to the usual seating
in the house. When the Requiem
begins, the box slowly ascends, revealing a space that somewhat
resembles a boxing ring, complete,
as we can now see,
with ring-side seating.
Melillo, the executive
producer at BAM in New York,
says in Rebecca Mead's
really felt as though at any moment Eddie Carbone could come off that
stage and grab your throat. It was, like, ‘Oh, my God, I am given
license to be a witness to a murder. I am really going to see someone
kill someone.’” The effect comes
to full term when Eddie
begins to teach Rodolfo how to box midway
through the show. Ring
reminds one of Schroedinger: With the box unopened, we cannot know
the result of our experiment; with the box opened, we cannot help but
the results, thereby rendering our experiment moot. The
result is already known. Miller himself admits this. The
audience's hope that things might turn out differently supplies the
main tension of the play.
Time is also a
character in van Hove's telling of this story; for,
as Richard Schechner states in Between Theatre and
and rhythm can be used in the same way as text, props, costumes, and
the bodies of the performers and audience.” He is refering to
ritualistic performance, but the same dictum could be applied to van
the scenes are fast-paced, moving quickly from thesis to antithesis.
Mead says in
her New Yorker article,
“The production has a disquieting erotic intimacy and the hurtling
pace of a thriller’s climax.”
Everything slows down in the
dinner scene, however, with
the various actors sitting around the stage staring at each other.
set to a drum beat to give the feel of the clock ticking, the
interminability of the awkward. The
dance Schechner might be looking for exists in the silence between.
drumming brings to mind Eastern theatre, particularly kabuki; A
View From the Bridge fits the
that plays be about moral conflict in affairs of the heart. The
actors in the ring play with bare feet (with the exception of the
moment where Catherine is caught wearing heels to impress the
newly-arrived Rodolfo). The use of specific repeated movements
the work of Jerzy Grotowski, whose Theatre Laboratory espoused the
virtues of stripped-down storytelling in the theatre and blurring the
lines between actor and spectator.
particular moment that seems especially in the vein of Grotowski is
when Catherine is trying to get Eddie to come to her wedding. She
suddenly, out of anger or
frustration, embraces him and
beats his back repeatedly during her speech. The
words are nearly
irrelevant; it is the gesture
which drives the play forward.
moments where time is manipulated include Marco's lifting of the
chair to prove his strength against Eddie. As the chair is held aloft
by Marco, the very bottom of one leg in his grasp, “Requiem
æternam” blares in full intensity, the players frozen in their
positions. The audience is given a complete opportunity to take in
this picture and all its implications, a moment echoed at the very
end of the play.
Hove's work is not about creating some
illusion of reality; rather, it is, as Tony Kushner says of him, to
“make the audience confront the failure to create completely
convincing illusions—and the power of the theatre is
that failure to create convincing illusions. It is the creation of a
double consciousness. Ivo’s impulse is to take that very seriously,
and to ask the audience to collaborate in making this thing real.”
van Hove is not beholden to the
text. Indeed, his version of
A View From the Bridge
is cut down somewhat from the published version. It could be that van
Hove has chosen to use Miller's original one-act version (I am
unaware of how much it differs), but certainly the dialogue in the
final scene has been diminished. The knife fight is replaced by what
looks like a rugby huddle during a demonic rainstorm, as blood pours
down on the company. A slow rendition of the “Libera me” movement
of the requiem plays. We don't need to see the actual tragedy to know
the tragedy has happened, is happening before our eyes.
Hove exclusively uses existing texts, usually classical
works. “I discovered I could make much more personal work through
the filter of a text by Shakespeare that was four hundred years old,”
van Hove. It is a preference
that agrees with Grotowski, who said, “Even though we use classical
texts, ours is a contemporary theatre in that it confronts our very
roots with our current behavior and stereotypes, and in this way
shows us our ‘today’ in perspective with ‘yesterday,’ and our
‘yesterday’ with ‘today.’”
want to make the most extreme, personal theatre, but for as big an
audience as possible,” van
Hove says about his work generally.
“I am not the kind of theatre-maker who likes it for small
audiences. I don’t do something to please, or to entertain. I don’t
think theatre is there for entertainment, purely.”
View From the Bridge highlights
this approach. The audience gets its katharsis, that purging of
emotion so vital to what theatre is, and it doesn't have to be
over-produced. The audience need not be led from thesis to conclusion
by the hand. As with all works that speak across generations, we are
able to get something so meaningful and relevant where there may have
been nothing before. Arthur
Miller would certainly have approved.
“The Theatre's New Testament.” Towards a Poor Theatre.
1968. New York: Routledge, 2002.
“Theatre Laid Bare.” The New Yorker,
26 October 2015.
Arthur. A View From the Bridge.
1955. New York: Penguin, 1977.
Schechner, Richard. Between Theatre and Anthropology. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania, 1985.