Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Well, He's a Little Light in the Loafers...

“One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan.” If this quote feels anachronistic, it’s because it is. With the relative ease of the L train and the literary patrimony of brownstones from Boerum Hill to Fort Greene, Brooklyn’s cultural cache in the five boroughs is undeniable. Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, playing at the Cort Theater through April 4th, harkens back to a time when Red Hook was not a euphemism for IKEA.

The family dynamics of love (more of the kissin’ cousins variety than filial) and loyalty sear from beginning to end. Liev Schreiber plays Eddie, a longshoreman in love with his precocious orphaned niece Catherine (Scarlett Johansson). They are not blood relations, as Catherine is the niece of Eddie’s wife Beatrice, played by Jessica Hecht. Beatrice is the consummate first- generation Brooklyn mother, meddlesome and anxious, not far removed from the shtetl or aldea, much like Woody Allen’s on- screen mother in Annie Hall. But Hecht is raw, wise, and sympathetic, rather than simply shrill.

Eddie’s paternalistic affection to doe- eyed Catherine keeps her flitting about, fetching his slippers and cigars while Beatrice looks on with equal parts revulsion and resignation. The threesome might live forever in this incestuous- polygamous, arrangement until Rodolpho (Morgan Spector) and Marco (Corey Stoll), two illegal stowaway cousins arrive from Sicily. Marco and Catherine begin a puppy love courtship. This riles Eddie, who fears Marco’s ulterior motive is to attain citizenship, as he seems to be a bit light in the loafers, given his random outbursts of song and dance- “like a regular chorus girl,” as Eddie puts it.

The trajectory in A View From the Bridge is so taut that ruining it might be challenging. But Schreiber’s performance seethes with such desire and defeat every moment he is on stage. As Eddie’s family betrayal leads him into neighborhood perdition, Schreiber’s bulk diminishes into his work shirt and trousers. If his leading lady stood on equal thespian footing, the dynamic between Catherine and Eddie would not have felt as lopsided. While Schreiber transforms throughout, Scarlett Johansson never ceases to be ScarJo.

Though the themes of loyalty and impossible love span the human experience, the story is so rooted in the red brick tenements of Brooklyn that it feels as if the story could only have taken place here. Scenic designer John Lee Beatty captures the fire escape walk- up grit and homespun chintz parlors of IRT Brooklyn in a phenomenal rotating set.

The play ends tragically, as we sense it inevitably will from the beginning. Perhaps the Brooklyn portrayed in the play is mythologized- of the boys on the docks and Old Country tribalism transplanted on the shores of the East River. But the real tragedy may be that in the era of the organic food coop and yoga studio, we will never truly know.

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