Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Letter from Broadway

Suppose you’re a Broadway producer.  You're backing a show. Not a tourist-friendly musical, not a sitcom-like comedy, but a really serious drama. Troubled longshoreman. Set in Brooklyn. Doesn’t end happily. Tell me, honestly, what are the of odds that you would expect to wake up after opening night to see these quotes from reviewers:

"Theatrical lightning bolt"
"A singular astonishment"
"Exquisitely played"
"Nothing short of remarkable"

It happened.

We attended the opening of A View from the Bridge, a revival of the 1955 play by Arthur Miller. Directed by Gregory Mosher [disclosure – a friend], it stars Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson [disclosure – not a friend] and Jessica Hecht. The experience reminded me of how exhilarating well-written, well-acted and well-directed live theater can be. It also reminded me of why we live in high-tax, lousy-weather New York.

I won't review the play here; it’s above my pay grade. Rather, I urge you to read the reviews by the professional critics, almost all of whom were positive. The reviews ranged from admiring at worst to raves at best. In particular, I commend to your attention those in the Feb. 1 New Yorker, the Jan, 25 Washington Post, and the Jan. 25 New York Times. [The New Yorker’s online review in their digital edition is available only to registered users.] Just to whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of John Lahr’s review in The New Yorker:

"Deftly directed by Greg Mosher, A View from the Bridge is a singular astonishment: a kind of theatrical lightning bolt that sizzles and startles at the same time, illuminating the poetry in the play’s prose and the subtlety in its streamlined construction. A View from the Bridge may not be Miller’s best play, but this is one of the best productions of his work that I’ve ever seen.” And that’s just the start.

On its merits, the play’s 14-week run would probably sell out. The presence of film star Johansson, making her Broadway debut, assures it. Booking a big Hollywood or TV name is almost a de rigueur casting techniques to assure high Broadway attendance. Well, imagine my surprise (I’m rarely impressed by film stars’ performances on the stage) -- she does well. She more than holds her own. Johansson, in her brunette wig, has attention paid to her.

[For you Arthur Miller fans who recognize my sly reference to “attention must be paid” from Death of a Salesman, I’m not the only one trying to show my cleverness. Ben Brantley in the Times slips this into his review: “There’s no question of not paying them the attention that Miller demands.”]

But it’s Schreiber who is in a class by himself. He has to be considered one of the fine theatrical actors of our time. In A View from the Bridge, we may look at Scarlett, but we’re fixated on Liev. “Schreiber is nothing short of remarkable,” says The Washington Post.

Go see it.


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