Waterford Museum-Showboat Barge in Red Hook, Brooklyn was the venue for Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, presented by Brave New World Repertory Theatre as an AEA Showcase from May 31st-June 24th
Directed by ALEX DMITRIEV, Produced by CLAIRE BECKMAN
This reviewer has witnessed several renditions of this particular masterpiece by one of America’s towering giants of 20th Century theater. And when I say towering, I can just as well mean it literally, since on two occasions I had the privilege of encountering Mr. Miller on the streets of New York, who at 6 feet 4 inches, certainly had the physical height, as well as warmth, equal to the depths of his best writings. This play, I have always assessed is deservedly among those of his canon so considered, be it “Death Of A Salesman”, “The Crucible”, “All My Sons”, and “The Price”. I conversed with the director of this production at intermission, and shared bewilderment of the partially held censure that this piece, originally penned as a one-act in 1955, and was subsequently developed into a full length play a year later, is at times considered to be somewhat below the standards of the above mentioned items of Miller’s oeuvre. Nonsense!
Few of his plays have been so often revived on Broadway, Off B’way, London’s West End, National Theater, Regionally across America, throughout Europe, adapted in film by no less a director than Sidney Lumet, and adapted as an opera by not one but TWO composers: Renzo Rossellini (director,Roberto’s brother) and American William Bolcom who directly collaborated with Miller’s libretto for a premiere at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1999. Various revivals have garnered succeeding awards such as numerous Tonys,, Oliviers, Drama Desks, Obies, Jeffs, and undoubtedly every other possible accolade this work can generate when it’s rendering is first rate. Happily, in the case of Alex Dmitriev’s staging on this Brooklyn Barge with the Statue of Liberty clearly in sight at this site-specific presentation, I suggest that a New York Innovative Theater Award also be so considered.
The fact that this presentation was produced by Claire Beckman to be “immersive theater” is already well documented recently in the highly informative interview by Laurie Graff for New York Splash Magazine with Beckman, who also did an excellent portrayal of Beatrice, and director, Dmitriev. Their particular teamed history with this play, and choice of the intensely intimate and appropriate venue certainly lent well to the stimulation of the evening. But, all the perfect settings in the universe cannot insure a successfully satisfying theater experience if the players along with the staging, projection, subtlety, pacing, and sense of ensemble unity is lacking in any way.
Last Friday night, ALL the proper elements were in perfect place and kept the capacity house (barge) utterly rapt to every utterance, movement, shift, and inexorable progress of Eddie Carbone (richly rendered in nuance and passion by Rich O’Brien), toward his tragic demise in Miller’s most spare echoing of Greek Tragedy in what in 1955 was a contemporary Brooklyn setting. Maggie Horan’s Catherine, the niece of Beckman’s Beatrice and O’Brien’s Eddie by marriage and object of Eddie’s suppressed forbidden desires, was fetching, sweet, intelligent, curious, and thoroughly convincing in her involvement of this sorrowful tale that was all too credible when Miller first heard its origin from the Sicilian born attorney who, as the character Alfieri (ably portrayed by Joe Gioco), narrates the story directly to the audience in the classic Greek tradition. Brothers Marco and Rudolpho, ( Ram Kanneganti and Jacob Dabby respectively), as the cousins to Beatrice who have emmigrated illegally from Sicily to find work with Longshoreman, Eddie on the Brooklyn docks and secretly live with them , were highly admirable in their contributions and enhanced the overall verisimilitude making the inevitable conclusion to this fated drama completely believable. Kudos also to Diana Duecker’s Lighting, Leegrid Stevens Sound and Brittani Beresford Costume Designs: ALL providing the period as well as the perfect ambiance of this waterfront vessel’s immersive setting.
Though this production is now history and added to the celebrated history of this work, be on the lookout for this company’s next offering:”A MUSLIM IN THE MIDST” by Anand Rao come this November at The Actors Fund Arts Center in Downtown Brooklyn to be directed by Ms. Beckman.: “O, brave new world, that has such people in’t!”
More information – bravenewworldrep website
Photo credit: Doug Barron
Quality Time June 22, 23 and 24 at 7pm
Written by Ben Alexander, directed by Katrin Hilbe
Out of the blue, a guy shows up in the middle of the night at his old school chum’s apartment to whisk him off for that road trip of adventure and enchantment that they planned when they were kids–so goes the insane plot of “The Road Trip,” Herb’s most ridiculous play yet. Herb is sure that Curtis, artistic director of Avenue C Rep, will agree to produce it once he hears it read, and the actors have shown up for the reading even though Curtis told him no. But there’s an even bigger problem now: where’s Herb? Quality Time is an ode to that staple of small theatre, the artistic director/company pain-in-the-@$$ relationship.
Starring this stellar cast:
Talkback Thursday night.
The spirit of Bob Manus hovers over this play, so I very much hope you’ll be there.
Sheen Center Staged Reading of “The December Man”
The talented Kathy Gail is set to direct a staged reading of the New York Premiere of “The December Man” by Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy. The play was the winner of the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award for drama.
“The December Man” follows the tale of Jean Fournier, a young man coping with grief and regret after fleeing the massacre at L’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. This searing drama on courage, heroism and despair explores the long private shadow that public violence casts.
The reading takes place at the beautiful BlackBox Theater of the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street @ 7pm.
Reservations are required, but the reading is free and open to the public. Click here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10290125
Actress and producer, Claire Beckman, put Brooklyn’s Brave New World Repertory Theater on the map with an innovative production of To Kill A Mockingbird that was staged on the front porches of Victorian Flatbush back in 2005.
Now, Beckman – who received a BFA in Acting from Carnegie-Mellon and worked in television, regional theatre and Off-Broadway for 20 years before co-founding Brave New World Repertory Theatre with her husband, John Edmond Morgan – is starring in a brilliant and immersive production of Arthur Miller’s, A View From the Bridge, skillfully directed by Alex Dmitriev, known for his many luminous Off-B’way productions.
As the show comes into its final week, we had the chance to catch up with this inventive creative team to find out more about this historic production.
SPLASH: Claire, can you tell us what immersive theater is, and how you came to form a theater company to fulfill that?
CB: When I was a kid, I visited a film set and was disappointed that I couldn’t see the story unfold before me on location. It seemed unfair the action was only seen by the immediate film crew. Later, as an actor, I worked pretty equally in theatre and film, so it felt natural to want to create theatre on site. It began in 2005 with my own front porch, and the porches of five of my closest neighbors on the tree-lined street in Ditmas Park Brooklyn where my family lives. We rented 750 chairs, and an audience over twice that size showed up to sit in the street for a site-specific production of To Kill a Mockingbird that I produced, directed and narrated (as grown-up Scout.) My real life daughter, who was 8 years old, was amazing as little Scout, and my husband and co-founder John Morgan played Bob Ewell. We all wore body-mics and Zach Williamson, our brilliant sound and lighting designer wrote the cues, literally, as the one-night-only production was in progress. It was such a sensation that I went on to direct The Tempest on the Coney Island beach and boardwalk, The Crucible with lantern light in a reconstructed 17th century farmhouse, and Street Scene on 5th street. (The latter two in Park Slope.) Most recently, I directed my own adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, called The Plantation, on Governors Island, and with all of these productions, the location becomes a character and the audience is “immersed” in the story.
SPLASH: So Claire, how did you connect with Alex?
CB: In 1989, Alex directed me in the role of Catherine in A View From The Bridge for The Philadelphia Drama Guild. I loved working with him, and even then knew I wanted to play Bea someday. Twenty-nine years later, I got to thank him by hiring him to do it again, provided he’d cast me as Bea 🙂
SPLASH: Alex, what did you think when she came to you and asked you to do this piece?
AD: Intrigued. I love the play, and my appreciation for it has only grown through working with Claire and this site-specific location.
SPLASH: We understand the play is done onboard the Waterfront Barge Museum. How did that happen?
CB: I’d directed On The Waterfront on the barge in 2009 when BNW couldn’t get the rights to View. In November 2017 we finally got the rights, after the two celebrated B’way productions were over.
AD: I had no part of that – but once I saw the barge I realized the challenge. There was no place to hide for the actors, and for the audience. I love the intimacy between the actors and the audience. When we did the show at the Philadelphia Drama Guild (an 800 + or – seat house like Lincoln Center) the production was more operatic. On the barge the audience is as close to the actors as the actors are to each other on stage.
SPLASH: How is it different to work in that space for you Alex, vs an actual theater?
AD: I really embraced the opportunity to direct this play from the moment I saw the barge, wowed by the possibilities but scared by the challenges. How do I fit a Red Hook apartment, a street, a lawyer’s office and a holding cell in an act-able space of approximately 30 feet long and 13 feet wide? (14 feet of the width was to be audience seating). I spent days working on a ground plan of the barge, moving chairs and tables and other furniture in different configurations. So I visited the barge again, and my thoughts began to take shape. Because there is a beam dead center in the playing area I was able to split the areas on either side – apartment on one side, the street and other locations on the other. The audience would be split as well, on two sides running the length of the playing area. What helped was, that in reading the play over and over and doing some research on it and Miller’s thoughts, I wanted the lawyer, Alfieri, to be central to the action. In a lot of productions he is off in a corner and gives his narration like an outsider. But he is really an active narrator. He is showing us only those scenes that concisely tell the story. So I have him move through the space, setting the scenes and moving chairs, which makes the whole barge his domain in telling us the story of Eddie Carbone.
SPLASH: And Claire?
CB: I love what Alex has done with the space. He’s created a Brooklyn apartment and exterior inside the 100-year-old barge – without denying the barge’s existence. It brings the Waterfront into the story. An audience member also commented that the shaky ground of the barge mirrors the shaky ground of the family tragedy. I love that.
SPLASH: A View From the Bridge premiered in 1955 and was known as a Greek tragedy, even though it was set in the Brooklyn apartment and surroundings of Eddie Carbone. What is the message that you feel still resonates, Alex?
AD: Throughout the rehearsal process we were commenting on how much the play is still relevant to the world as it is now. The issues that are part of the fabric of the character’s lives are alive in the streets of this city, state, country and world. Miller’s tragic tale of Eddie Carbone touches on male dominance, homophobia, incest and fears over immigrants. The #MeToo movement entered our discussions. Every day the papers had articles that echo the words and situations in Miller’s A View From The Bridge. What has been especially gratifying is that the audiences are quick to hear those echoes, and make the connections between Miller’s world and ours.
SPLASH: Claire, you play the wife. Tell us about your role and how a woman’s role has and has not changed the last half a century.
CB: Ha! I’ve been thinking about that a lot. In too many ways it hasn’t changed enough. Men still have so many more economic opportunities and as long as women bear and raise children in the prime of our lives, we will continue to sacrifice our careers for our families. I think most men have more respect for the work that women have traditionally done. It’s slowly changing, but it’s still a delicate negotiation and the person who is the primary breadwinner still determines where and how the family lives.
SPLASH: What have been the most exciting aspects of this production for you, so far… Alex?
AD: A cliché is that all a director has to do is pick a good play, cast it properly and then sit back and be no more than a traffic cop. I am blessed with a wonderful cast – each one properly placed and so wonderfully engaged in telling Eddie Carbone’s story. That is exciting. But then to watch them in performance on the barge and to hear Miller’s word and to observe the audience and their equal commitment to the story – their laughter, their gasps, their visceral connection and their applause. That’s exciting.
SPLASH: What about for you, Claire?
CB: The Statue of Liberty gazes directly at the barge. She is another character in this site-specific production. She still bears witness to the tired and the hungry immigrants, like Marco and Rodolpho, and like the children separated from their parents at the Mexican border right now. When the sun sets over her torch, our play begins. It is gratifying to be telling an important and timeless American story.
SPLASH: In this 2018 climate of Me Too and Immigration and so much more, what would you like the audience to takeaway after seeing the show?
CB: Arthur Miller was a genius because he gave voice to ordinary women and men. I’d love for people to feel acknowledged, understood and recognized, or at least to recognize someone they’ve known and perhaps even understand them just a bit better. And I hope they feel the history of the Waterfront and stop and look at the Statue of Liberty on their way home.
For more information, please visit the bravenewworldrep website.
The prolific playwright, Rich Orloff, writes:
On Sunday June 3, I’ll be presenting a different kind of piece as part of the Sundays@Six series. IT’S A BEAUTIFUL WOUND is an autobiographical monologue about my journey over the last few years in underground therapy utilizing MDMA (a.k.a. Ecstasy) and psilocybin mushrooms, inspired by cutting-edge experiments designed to help people heal from deep emotional wounds.
It’s been an extraordinary adventure, one that has included moments of both serene joy and overwhelming horror, a few unexpected side trips, and occasional wisdom that comes from Lord knows where.
This isn’t the first draft! For the last few months I’ve been inviting folks to hear the piece in my apartment, so I could both improve it as a writer and practice it as a performer. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of helpful feedback along the way, and I finally feel the piece is ready to move out of my living room and into the Jewel Box.
Oh, and although the piece isn’t a comedy, I promise a few hearty laughs along the way.
I look forward to sharing IT’S A BEAUTIFUL WOUND with you. It’s a tale of reconciliation with the soul.