The View from Fuse Theatre Ensemble's Bridge is Bright, Indeed
My first exposure to A View from the Bridge was the 2015 Tony-winning revival by Dutch director Ivo Van Hove—a spare, sinewy, unbearably erotic production that crackled with the threat of violence and culminated in one of the more arresting final visuals I’ve ever seen onstage. Shuffling out after curtain call, I turned to my friend and said, “That was the only possible good version of this play.”
Four years later, I stand corrected. Staged in a cavernous warehouse north of Slabtown, Fuse Theatre Ensemble’s A View from the Bridge (co-directed by Sara Fay Goldman and Fuse founder Rusty Newton Tennant) finds the insistent pulse in one of Arthur Miller’s most unwieldy texts. Featuring uniformly excellent performances, smart, unshowy staging, and (color me delighted) some excellent accent work, it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in Portland all year.
For the Miller-deficient: Bridge is one of those midcentury living room plays where fathers yell at daughters and wives yell at husbands. It centers on Eddie (Ernie Lijoli, magnificent), a Brooklyn longshoreman, and his niece Catherine (Jaquelle Davis), who’s lived with him most of her life. Eddie and his wife Bea (Adriana Gantzer) are preparing to illegally board her cousins from Italy—when the cousins show up, and one of them starts courting Catherine, it reduces Eddie to a cocktail of rage and sexual confusion that sends fracture lines through every relationship in his life.
There’s an argument that now, in the age of Joker, we don’t need any more stories that explain or excuse the acts of monstrous men. I tend to agree. Kudos, then, to Lijoli, whose tragic man-child all but compels us to leap from our folding chairs and give him a hug. What could easily slide into a one-note sketch of bravura and brawn becomes, in his hands, genuinely heartbreaking—you sense the quivering fear beneath the bluster.
Every other performer matches him. Davis's Catherine is brassy, lovable, and visibly confused by the rotten dynamics laid before her; she, too, finds but never overplays the gasping tragedy at the center of Miller’s text. As Alfieri, the family attorney who also narrates, Michael J. Teufel takes one of Miller’s great structural missteps (the play works just fine without a hamfisted framing device, and Alfieri becomes a mouthpiece for some snoozeworthy musings on The Nature of Justice) and makes him captivating.
The buzziest part of the show—its venue—also winds up being its greatest asset. Lit by nothing but two standing lamps and a suspended fluorescent strip, the entire experience feels furtive. A chorus sits on either side of you and takes notes. Every wind rustle and rainfall registers in the room. The bigness and wrongness of the space underlines the sense that you shouldn’t be seeing any of this; for a play that could fall victim to stodgy, dusty classicism, Goldman and Tennant’s design choices pepper in a crucial element of danger.
Not everything’s perfect, of course. Considering it is not a theater, the acoustics in the warehouse are, shall we say, rough. The actors pull through, but it takes some considerable adjusting. Sometimes you also get the sense that Tennant and Goldman don’t quite know what to do with the Greek chorus (again, an inherited bug in the material), though it’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief when they walk onstage as a team of immigration agents and no one winks to the audience.
In all, Fuse’s production is a thorn in the side of anyone who insists that Great American Plays are only worth seeing if they’ve been deconstructed beyond recognition (I fully admit to my card-carrying membership of this camp). Its experiments are laudable, but it doesn’t hang its success on them—at the end of the day, the show works because it’s a provocative story, exceedingly well-told.
A View from the Bridge
7:30 p.m. Thurs–Sun until Oct 27, NW Marine Art Works, $10–20