Theater We Dream About But Seldom See

Mark Strong is unforgettable channeling Arthur Miller, while Bruce Willis gives James Caan a run for his money in 'Misery'

A View From the Bridge. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

A View From the Bridge. (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

In a mediocre theater season, greatness has arrived at last. Riding a crest of rave reviews, the sold-out London production of Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama A View From the Bridge starring the tremendous British actor Mark Strong is everything you could ask for—and more. This is theater we dream about but seldom see. If you can afford it, you might want to see it twice. It’s a production so rich with innovation and detail you can’t get it all in one sitting.

As an alternative to the naturalistic way it is usually presented, Belgian director Ivo van Hove has staged the play, about longshoremen on the docks of Red Hook, Brooklyn, as a modern tragedy, unfolding in a series of rounds in a boxing match on an almost empty stage. It is narrated by a lawyer who acts as a metaphorical one-man Greek chorus. This makes sense, since Arthur Miller wrote it like fight scenes, building from early confrontations to an explosive knockout worthy of a violent championship finale at the Polo Grounds. From the water raining down on the homoerotic opening scene of stripped-down dock workers in the shower after a shift on the pier to the blood raining down in the final scene of murder and retribution, there is an edgy feeling of grim things to come, underscored by the throbbing hum of Faure’s “Requiem.”

Played barefoot from start to finish, the play maintains an intensity is so riveting you don’t exactly know where to look next; the audience anticipates every dramatic revelation with the punch of a punishing right hook. Over an uninterrupted two hours, the plight of Eddie Carbone, the brawny Italian-American waterfront stevedore whose unhealthy, possessive infatuation with his 17-year-old niece Catherine (Phoebe Fox), destroys the lives of everyone around him. To the dismay of his wife Beatrice (a terrific Nicola Walker), who sees the truth behind her husband’s unnatural affection but refuses to admit it, Eddie treats Catherine like a madonna. (“Don’t trust nobody” is the talisman he teaches her to live by.) Unwilling to admit he has anything more at stake than the girl’s welfare, he becomes uneasy with the arrival of two illegal immigrant brothers from Italy. But when the childlike Catherine develops a crush on Rodolfo (Russell Tovey), the happy-go-lucky younger brother, Eddie turns hostile, unable to control his jealousy. Tension builds as he tests and taunts the boy’s masculinity, blond hair and singing voice, turning resentment into betrayal and rage in the catastrophic scene when Eddie passionately kisses Rodolfo on the mouth while the women watch in horror—an act designed to destroy the boy that only destroys himself.

The production embodies a testosterone-channeled climate of threatened masculinity fueled by a fear in the alpha male that becomes palpable. I would love to have seen the original Broadway production, directed by Harold Clurman and starring the inimitable Van Heflin as Eddie and the unforgettable Eileen Heckart as his loving but long-suffering wife, Beatrice. But none of the New York revivals I have seen in the past come close to the power and quality of this one, populated by a mostly British cast sporting perfect Brooklyn accents.

The cast is excellent, but there’s no avoiding the fact that the entire production is galvanized by Mark Strong, whose face of gnarled and tortured expressiveness conveys a multitude of mood shifts—irrational, blind to reason, petulant, menacing, self-destructive—and whose body language unleashes such a torrent of athletic virtuosity that I had to force myself to remember this is intended as an ensemble piece. It’s a performance of richly textured layers that leaves the audience adrift, always returning in the emotional gale that surrounds him to his centerpiece of dominance for anchor. It’s the performance of the year in a production I’ll still be talking about in years to come.


It’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed  a genuine nail-biting thriller on Broadway, but for 90 hair-raising minutes without intermission, William Goldman’s slick adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and 1990 film Misery fills the bill nicely. Taking over the reins from James Caan in the starring role of a popular novelist with two broken legs, held hostage on the screen by a psychopathic fan, Bruce Willis recaptures every tense emotion in the film, and co-star Laurie Metcalf is moment-by-moment perfect as his captor in the memorable role that won an Academy Award for Kathy Bates.

Director Will Frears goes easy on the corn to condense for the stage a horror flick in which the only monster is human, and not all that scary at first glance, either. She is Annie Wilkes, a registered nurse who lives on a secluded farm in the rugged Colorado mountains, a plain Jane, mousy-haired woman who loves meat loaf, Liberace records, TV game shows and the glitzy pulp fiction of best-selling romance novelist Paul Sheldon. Everybody, it seems, loves Sheldon’s eight bestsellers about fictional heroine Misery Chastain except the author himself. Everybody, including his agent, wants another Misery book, but Paul kills off the character in a final episode and packs himself off to a mountain lodge to write the serious book of his dreams.

During a raging storm, he wrecks his blue ’65 Mustang and is rescued from an icy death by his “Number One” follower. At first, she seems like a regular Florence Nightingale, painfully popping his dislocated shoulder into place and feeding him painkillers and homemade soup. Then she finds the manuscript of his next book, reads it without permission, and slowly begins to show her disapproval. (She hates all the swear words, something that never happened in her favorite Misery books.) But that’s nothing compared to what happens when she learns to her horror that in the ninth and final Misery installment, which is being published without her knowledge, he kills off the character forever. Cruel retaliation begins with the drinking water, which she pours from the scrub bucket on the dirty floor. Locked in a room with both legs broken, the writer finds himself living every author’s wildest nightmare. He becomes the prisoner of a fan who knows how to inflict pain.

Drugged, bandaged, splinted and miles from the nearest phone, the poor man’s Harold Robbins finds his safety and survival jeopardized by an obsessed admirer who wheels in the barbecue grill, forces him to set his unpublished manuscript on fire with lighter fluid and impels him to start a new book restoring her beloved Misery to life for literary posterity. (Keep an eye on that heavy, unwieldy typewriter with the “N” missing on the keyboard.) There’s more, but no spoilers, please. Let me just warn you—the audience screams are justified. A psychological thriller that cleverly matches wills between the killer nurse and her helpless “patient,” Misery pulls out all the stops. Of special interest is the revolving set by David Korins, replete with falling exterior snow and icicles hanging from the gutters, which frames an interior that reveals each room in the house as the prisoner moves from door to door in a wheelchair. Mr. Willis is a perfect victim, playing to his jailer’s humor and vanity while plotting his escape, and Ms. Metcalf, as a lady gargoyle in action, makes hypodermic-wielding lunacy positively captivating.

Theater We Dream About But Seldom See