Playwright: Arthur Miller
At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: $25-$95. Runs through: Oct. 15
Arthur Miller made no secret of his desire to write plays exhibiting the gravity and grandeur of classical tragedy, nor his disappointment at having to conveyand in his eyes, diminishthose qualities in contexts easily comprehended by mid-20th-century North American patrons.
Neither has Ivo van Hove, artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, ever flinched from putting his own unique stamp on stories originating in cultures other than his ownan Italian ghetto on the fringes of New York City in 1955, for example, where longshoreman Eddie Carbone will suffer the fate of fundamentally righteous, but dangerously flawed, heroes since the days of Sophocles and Shakespeare.
As the curtain rises on Hove's production, playgoers might be forgiven thinking that they might have wandered into the Lyric by mistake. The aforementioned curtain is a literal one, you see, lifted slowly to the mournful strains of a choir singing a requiem more suggestive of verismo opera than the Brooklyn docks. The scenic furnishings offer no clue as to our locale, being stripped down to a single door in the upstage wall and a likewise spartan bench circumnavigating the perimeter of the playing space. Outside this boundary are two groups of observers seated on the stage in full view of spectators.
The performance stylistics begin as austerely as their minimalist milieu. Alfieri, the neighborhood's elderly legal advisor, acquaints us with Eddie, his wife Beatrice and 17-year-old niece Catherine, the latter of whom still frolics with her uncle like a child. When a pair of illegal immigrants take refuge with the Carbones, a romance springs up between the sheltered young woman and one of the "submarines." Eddie's obsession with preventing this match eventually leads him to extreme actions crossing the line of filial authority in a pivotal moment drawing forth an audible gasp of shock from the audience.
Even those familiar with a script now constituting standard classroom curriculum may find themselves joining in the visceral response. The custom in our own country is to hint at Miller's Freudian subtext from the start, but Hove initially keeps his company's emotional level at low ebb, the better to build the intensity gradually over an intermissionless 110 minutes, ensuring a full-blown Aristotelian catharsis for first viewers and seasoned theatergoers alike.