PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Gregory Mosher

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Gregory Mosher
 
Although 2010 has just begun, we can safely judge Gregory Mosher as the theatrical comeback story of the year.
Gregory Mosher
Gregory Mosher Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Mosher's career is as legendary as any in the current theatre. He brought two major theatres back to prominence and vitality — Chicago's Goodman Theatre and New York's Lincoln Center Theater — and largely gave the world David Mamet through his many productions and stagings of the Chicago playwright's works. In 1992, he abruptly exited his post at LCT, then at the peak of its success, and the New York theatre has seldom seen him since then. For a moment, he was the final artistic director of Circle in the Square. He produced Freak and James Joyce's The Dead on Broadway. And since 2004, he has quietly headed the Arts Initiative program at Columbia University. But, last month, seemingly out of nowhere, he delivered to Broadway one of the biggest play revival successes in recent memory, with his production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, in her Broadway debut. Mosher recently told Playbill.com how it all happened.

Playbill.com: Tell me how the whole production of A View From the Bridge came together.
Gregory Mosher: It began with my deciding, after five years at Columbia University, they could probably live without my part-time involvement for five weeks. That's what allowed it to happen, and then I had to figure out what play to do. I read and I read, and I thought this play might be fun. I called the Miller estate, and I called Liev and I called Scarlett. At which point I went to [producer] Stuart Thompson and said, "Here's the deal. Let's make this happen if you like." And he said, "Great. Let's do it."

Playbill.com: Going back, you took five weeks off specifically with the idea of putting on a play?
GM: Well, it ended up being seven weeks of part-time work. It's sort of like when you're running a theatre and have to skip off to the rehearsal room. It was a familiar feeling.

Playbill.com: What other plays did you read and consider?
GM: Not a lot of new plays, because I don't see a lot of new plays. I'm not on the new-play mailing list. I looked at a lot of 19th-century and 20th-century plays. I knew that I wanted to try to do a play on Broadway, so that was one template you had to lay on it. You had to believe that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people were going to come and see this play and that it would work in one of those 1,000-seat theatres. So, that narrowed it down. As you know, I worked with Miller in the '80s and adored him. It had been 13 years since View had been done, and it was a Tony Award-winning production. But I didn't see it. I've never seen this play, actually. Playbill: You thought of Schreiber for the part right away?
GM: Sure. You know, Miller says Eddie is 40. And people who play this part have not usually been 40. They've been older. Miller was 40 when he wrote it. He knew what being 40 was like. He wasn't guessing. I thought it would be interesting to have a 40-year-old Eddie.

Playbill.com: Who suggested Scarlett Johansson?
GM: It was my idea. I always been dazzled by her film work. I think she's just magical. And she has that amazing voice and I thought that voice might carry in a theatre. I had a hunch that her body would come alive on stage, that she would understand the difference between acting in close-up and acting from the bottom of her toes to the top of her head.

Playbill.com: There have been reports in recent years that she was looking for a stage vehicle. Were you aware of that when you contacted her?
GM: I wasn't aware of that, actually. My ignorance and naivete has saved me more than once, Robert.

Playbill.com: You've taken a very direct, naturalistic approach to the play.
GM: This is a production that comes very much out of the text, with virtually nothing overlaid on it. Liev asked me what my concept was, and he smiled when said it. And I said, "I've got to tell you, my concept is to cast you." He thought that was a joke. Then he found out later that it was true. And he'll be the first to tell you that that was a little scary for him. And by that I meant [my concept was to] cast a young, extremely well-experienced, dazzlingly skilled, very intelligent and emotionally committed actor and see what happens. And that's what we did. At the first rehearsal, I said, "I don't have some idea of a production in my head that I'm going to try to get you to do. We're going to figure this out together in the rehearsal room." Liev said, "In four weeks? Wouldn't it be better if you just had an idea?" I said, "Maybe, but I don't. So, now we have no choice." That process is what I think you're seeing on stage.

Playbill.com: You've been absent from the New York theatre for many years. With this success, will be see more productions from you in the future?
GM: I think that might be fun. I do have that list. And I suppose it will grow and I will dip into it. I feel very, very lucky that this turned out the way it did.

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber
Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber
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