Eddie Carbone, the emotionally myopic longshoreman in A View From the Bridge which opened Jan. 24 at the Cort for a fourth Broadway viewing, is a master of the bad call, whether it's how late the grocery stays open or who should marry the 17-year-old niece he and his wife have raised as their own daughter. Fifty-five years after Arthur Miller created him in a one-act play that was subsequently enlarged, Eddie is an easy read — except, of course, to himself — and it is this short-sightedness, his inability to recognize or even own up to the triangle that has formed in front of his own eyes, that propels his life inevitably off the docks.
Smoldering star-power appears to have been the motivation for this new revival — the commercial coupling of Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson — and, through the sheer strength of her performance, Jessica Hecht joins them above the title, aligning the stars perfectly for the grinding tragedy ahead.
On opening night, there was none of the welcoming applause that generally is generated by stars on Broadway. A tone had already been set by the time they set foot on stage. Although Miller aspired for Greek-steeped tragedy, director Gregory Mosher goes about it in a sotto voce fashion, bringing it down a notch or two to resemble real life. This puts the production on a whole different plane than the all-stops-out, Tony-winning revival Michael Mayer directed in 1996.
How does one bring such epic emotions down to human size? "Well, first of all, the play is so good," began director Mosher, giving credit where credit is due. "If you trust that Miller has done a good job and don't try to help him — that's Step One. He's already written a great play. You don't have to make it any better than it is. "Then, the next thing you do is to say to the actors all day long, 'Please talk to each other. Please listen to each other. Please don't try to do too much. Do what comes from the other actor. Don't invent line readings. Don't think of funny faces to make. Just put your attention on the other actor, and what energy is coming from them and the imaginary circumstances of the play (we're in Brooklyn in a tenement). Whatever will come out will be truthful. That's how you spend rehearsal, but whether you're having a fight or whether you're trying to make up after a fight, the basic rule is: Listen. Listen. Listen. And that's how the accents come together, that's how the rhythms come together, that's how Jessica and Liev can be in the middle of the tensest scene and can take a ten-second pause in the middle of the scene. Those ten seconds crackle because you know they're paying attention to each other."
The unexpectedly stage-assured performance he drew from Johansson was the talk of the after-party held at Espace on (very) West 42nd Street. "Well, Scarlett's a champ — a pro," Mosher tossed off before dribbling off into a sports allusion: "Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in the world, went to play baseball and had to go back to basketball because he could not hit the curve ball. This happens a lot with theatre and film people — going in both directions, by the way — but I thought she'd be very good or I wouldn't have cast her. She has that beautiful voice, and she's so gorgeous, so temperamentally perfect for the part. Then it turns out she could hit the curved ball. She can be — and is — a stage actress as well as being one of the world's great film actresses, and that blew my mind. I have to tell you, because Liev really is kinda Michael Jordan, to be there with him and to give up nothing to him — I mean, to be absolutely on the court with him — is an astonishingly achievement, and, to her great credit, she makes it look easy."
Incredibly, almost criminally, Mosher has been away from Broadway for 18 years. "My last Broadway show was 1992 — A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin — and James Gandolfini playing the upstairs neighbor — but the 18 years, in a way, seems like 18 weeks."
He kept his hand in, directing regionally — most memorably, The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field and Jason Butler Harner that almost transferred to Broadway from the Kennedy Center. "It was the same situation as this play, really," Mosher admitted. "Sally was a great leader as well as a great actress. She set a tone for the show. Liev set a tone and an example of really hard work."
[flipbook] I asked Schreiber to tell me that his subtle, shaded portrayal was as easy as he made it look, and he said, "It's as easy as I made it look." A wry customer, but it was his only unconvincing line-reading all night. More than act the role, he seems to inhabit it, breathing it in and breathing it out, with finely tuned nuances throughout.
"It's a trying role, but it's a lovely play. It's so lean. There's no fat on this play at all. And the trajectory of the character is just remarkable. I don't think it's any coincidence that the actors who have played this role had great experiences doing it — Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Lo Bianco and Van Heflin."
He saw Raf Vallone do Eddie Carbone in the 1959 movie and "thought it was odd that they picked an Italian to play the lead because it seemed you lost that cultural conflict element, but I think [director Sidney] Lumet was after something about Italian men and that sort of patriarchal dominance."
Johansson admitted she had considered doing the part a couple of years ago when there was some mutterings about remaking the movie, but "I, never in a million years, would have thought I would be debuting on Broadway with this character in this play. Recently, I felt I was too old for the part. Liev would say, 'You're great for it, but I'm not,' and I'd say, 'You're great for it, but I'm not.' Then I think Greg was the one who convinced us that we were both right for it and that we should do it. "I think I've been looking for the right thing to do on stage for a couple of years, but nothing moved the spirit in me somehow. Then, as soon as I started reading some of this with Liev, it was, like, 'oh!' I always thought of Catherine as being this kind of young and innocent girl, and then, as soon as we started reading it, I thought, 'There's something else here. There's a relationship worth exploring, I think.'"
She loves being, at last, "legit" — "My mom, I think, feels as if I have finally arrived!" — but taking this sharp right turn into the theatre required courage on her part. "I was very dubious about the whole thing before I started. Certainly throughout the rehearsal process, I thought, 'We're never going to get this done.' It looked like a big mound of clay that had no shape. Then finally, as we started getting closer to dress rehearsal and previews, it became this sculpted thing, and I got all melted away."
This is Hecht's second heart-breaking appearance on Broadway this season — she was the single mom in the fast-to-fold Brighton Beach Memoirs and the never-to-open Broadway Bound — and, miraculously, it only required her to move to a different area of Brooklyn (now Red Hook instead of Brighton Beach).
But it is no easier roost to rule, and she plays it harshly to withstand the constant battering of Eddie. "I think I had to take that stand because of the dynamic of the production that we're doing, really," Hecht said. "Liev is such a strong actor that I think if I was submissive you really wouldn't care. You'd think, 'Well, here's this mousy wife, and he has dominated her, and she can't give anything back, and now he's obsessed. Everybody would be victims, and nobody would be heroic at the end.
"Eddie's character is not an evil character. He's a victim of his own obsession. It's a profound story, not a story of weakness. It's actually a story of the attempt to ride over those things, and so I think there would be no other way to play that character. "I say to myself sometimes, 'I'm really trying just to keep looking at his eyes and not get scared.' When he gets angry, it's powerful. That's my goal — to connect with him."
When the tragedy nobody can stop finally arrives, Hecht has an especially affecting bit of business: "In the script, Arthur writes that the two women are keening, and we never could figure out what it was cerebrally. We kept thinking, 'What is keening?' In other cultures, that's rocking over the body and moaning. It's a very specific thing in Sicily or in Arabic countries. When someone has died, they have this wail. I didn't want to do that. For the first several performances, I was crying over the body. Then, Scarlett started to speak, and I had this impulse, because she was speaking, that I shouldn't be crying over her first line, so I put my hand over my mouth and moaned. And then I just guess I thought, 'Oh, that's better. That might be what keening is in that you're so sad you don't even have those exact sounds. You're like an animal.'"
Like Hecht, Santino Fontana endured the double-whammy of nine performances of Brighton Beach Memoirs and no performances of Broadway Bound and still made it to A View From the Bridge — only to be permanently sidelined by an onstage injury. He sent a card on opening night to his understudy (and now principal), Morgan Spector.
As the fair-haired Rodolpho — one of two immigrants stashed in the Carbone apartment — Spector is making his Broadway bow and feels like he has come up in an elevator too fast. "It was wild," he recalled. "I got a call at 8:30 in the morning from my agent Jack Nash. I couldn't believe it. Getting to play this role for a week — waiting to find out whether Santino was coming back or not — was a dream come true. Getting to actually take it over and play it for the full run was incredible."
Corey Stoll is the other immigrant, the vengeful Marco, who challenges Eddie in an iconic bit of business that silently ends the first act — hoisting a chair in the air from its leg. Yes, he confessed, "I do have a trick chair — the top part of the back is slighter — but I don't need it. That's just in case. There's always a little moment every night where I think I'm going to drop it. It helps to get down really low and come up instead of pulling it up. If I ever feel it afterward, it's in my hips."
At intermission, a German TV crew went up to first-nighters at random and asked if they liked the play. "I'd better like it — I'm his sister," shot back one attractive redhead wrapped in sable: actress Joan Copeland, Arthur Miller's little sis.
To friends who posed the same question, she laughed, "Well, I'm miserable. How good can it get?" That translated as an emphatic yes. "Liev is thrilling to watch. I think he's just marvelous in his exactitude, so close to the way I imagine that character would be. I saw a different production of it last February in London. Ken Stott played that role — the same Ken Stott who's now in God of Carnage here. He was like an animal. This is a different interpretation."
She reiterated that to Schreiber personally at the party and came away all aglow. "I brought my whole family around to approve of him — my nephew and niece, Robert and Janie, Arthur's first two children. I said, 'Liev, this is The Miller Approval.' He's wonderful — wonderful in this — and it's a great production, something to be remembered. It's a little different from the others that I've seen. It shows you what a great play it is. I don't think it ever got the attention and the acclaim it deserves."
These days Copeland has her life passing before her on a performing basis. "Actually, I'm doing a one-woman show, and guess who the woman is. It's about my life and the unimportant things that happened to it and the important things that happened to it, and I sing and I play the piano. It's a lousy title, and I may change it, but right now I'm calling it Joan Copeland: Her Life, Her Work, Her Brother. I just did it the other night for the first time for anybody at The Players Club, and it was an enormous success. Everyone stood up and cheered, which is not bad."
Jane Greenwood, the costume designer, showed no sign of the bends coming from the Art Deco elegance of Noel Coward's Present Laughter to Miller's kitchen-sink drudgery in four days flat. But, then, she enjoys era-jumping. "It's always interesting, you know, because you're always learning something. I like that aspect of it. I always enjoy the research and finding out who those people are."
Her sumptuous outfits for the Coward play were warmly praised, save for one notice that had her smarting. "Charles Isherwood — is that his name? — in The Times thought Victor Garber shopped all his clothes at Bergdorf Goodman, and I thought, 'I wished Bergdorf's had a 1930s rack of men's clothes there today.'"
Thanks to lead producer Stuart Thompson, who hails from Down Under, there was an inordinate amount of Aussies in attendance — starting with four-time Tony winner Zoe Caldwell. Along with sons Sam and Charles Whitehead, she was there, said Thompson, because "her husband, Robert Whitehead, produced this play in its original format, and he was one of my mentors in the business."
Caldwell was overheard saying, "Rarely has the author sounded as good as he did tonight." (Take a bow, dialogue coach Stephen Gabis).
Also up from Down Under, respectively coming and going from Broadway, were Barry Humphries (preparing Dame Edna Everage to start previewing All About Me with Michael Feinstein Feb. 22 at Henry Miller's Theatre) and Hugh Jackman (who just wound up a super-successful run at the Schoenfeld in A Steady Rain). They came from opposite sides of a crowded lobby to give gave each other an old-fashioned countryman bear-hug.
"We'll keep him under control," Humphries promised about Feinstein. As for the rest of it, he was less certain: "We have absolutely no idea what we're going to be doing, except cohabitating and bringing a little joy to the United States of America."
Naomi Watts is from Australia, too, but her invitation came from the star of the show, hubby Schreiber. His half-brother, Pablo Schreiber, showed as well, pretending to have no vested interest in the show. "I don't know anyone in it."
Come this spring, he'll have a new brother: "I'm working on a TV show. We'll start shooting in March, here in New York. It's called 'Lights Out.' It's going to be on FX. Holt McCallany plays my brother, Stacy Keach is our father, and Carolyn McCormick is my brother's wife." [McCallany is actually Julie Wilson's pride and joy.]
Another new TV recruit, Cry-Baby nemesis Christopher J. Hanke, arrived from Los Angeles and the filming of "Three Rivers" for CBS. "This is our first season," Hanke beamed. "We just did 13 episodes. We got six new ones that are airing sometime in the spring on a yet-to-be-determined night. It's a medical drama."
Rodgers and Hammerstein honcho Ted Chapin, a Mr. First-Nighter if ever there was one, brought his brother to the play. "Usually, one of my daughters comes with me, but they are both tonight at Lady GaGa," he said at intermission, pointing toward Radio City Music Hall. "I frankly had never heard of her when she asked about the tickets — then within three days Lady GaGa was everywhere."
Miles Chapin started out down an acting path ("Bless the Beasts and Children," Poor Little Lambs) but apparently ran out of animals and has taken a detour. "I'm selling real estate and raising two kids now," he said, "but I did some interesting radio work with the BBC last summer — a radio docu-drama based on the book, 'The Day Lehman Died,' and it was very satisfying. With the kids and all, I don't travel that much, and I can't go to Los Angeles a lot. Frankly, I was bored with a lot of it, not doing good parts. To do the kind of stuff Liev is doing — that would be great!"
The cast of the next Helen Hayes offering, Next Fall, came as a united, photo-op front — Patrick Breen, Maddie Corman, Sean Dugan, Patrick Heusinger, Connie Ray and Cotter Smith — and the playwright, actor Geoffrey Nauffts, arrived arm-in-arm with his director, Sheryl Kaller. "We're in rehearsal right now," he said, "just gearing up for the next reincarnation." Next Fall surfaced last summer Off-Broadway, to solid reviews.
Annie Potts and Christine Lahti were flying the colors of Thompson's hold-over hit from last season, the Tony-winning God of Carnage. "It's a great cast," the latter said. "We go on this ride every night with each other, and we never know what's going to happen. It's very exciting."
Further opening-night glitter was provided by Ellen Barkin, pianist David Lewis, Dylan and Becky Ann Baker, Griffin Dunne, "Heroes" hero Zachary Quinto, Saundra Santiago and Michael Arden with Julia Murney, looking smart and chic and Garlandesque in her "Get Happy" man's hat.