Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Hecht, and Liev Schreiber
in A View From the Bridge
(© Joan Marcus)
Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Hecht, and Liev Schreiber
in A View From the Bridge
(© Joan Marcus)
Set designer John Lee Beatty is regularly praised for providing the kinds of lavish and compulsively-detailed on-stage interiors that audience members immediately long to occupy, as in his recent set for The Royal Family. Every once in a while, however, he's asked to provide something unmistakably humble, which is the case for Gregory Mosher's highly respectable and ultimately moving revival of Arthur Miller's mid-20th-century, Greek-style tragedy, A View From the Bridge, now at Broadway's Cort Theater.

A living-room that has been stripped to such spartan essentials that the inhabitants often must sit on the heater serves as the main arena for the production, which focuses on dedicated dock-worker Eddie Carbone (Liev Schreiber), his neglected-in-the- bedroom wife Beatrice (Jessica Hecht) and their ward, Beatrice's 17-year-old niece Catherine (Scarlett Johansson), after whom the brooding, uncommunicative, dictatorial, and short-tempered Eddie disastrously lusts. Further crowding the shabby abode -- both physically and emotionally -- are illegal immigrant cousins Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector), the latter of whom falls for Catherine and thereby creates the situation that leads to the monumentally jealous Eddie's devastating downfall.

It's a large credit to Mosher that every one of Miller's down-to-earth, yet-larger-than-life characters -- including neighborhood lawyer Alfieri (Michael Cristofer), who narrates the unrelentingly downbeat tale -- is profoundly etched. If Mosher makes a single slip guiding his players through the increasingly claustrophobic events, it's in his too-obvious stage business involving the initial sighting of a pocket knife Eddie owns and, according to Miller's requirements, employs early to slice an apple.

From the instant Schreiber's Eddie scuffs in to join a coin-pitching game with two fellow workers (Robert Turano and Joe Ricci), the actor has every nuance in place for his depiction of a morally conflicted man who is imprisoned by illicit desires but damned if he's going to cop to them. He's even determined not to hear the truth when he goes hat-in-hand to Alfieri and has the truth blasted at him.

As for the women in his life, the sometimes overly-mannered Hecht is a totally convincing Beatrice -- a woman still in love with her husband, but frustrated at her inability to help him confront his destructive urges. But the big bulletin here is Johansson's stage debut. Somewhat deglamorized (at least judging from her film femme fatale roles) and wearing a lifeless brown 50's-esque Tom Watson wig, the actress is completely believable as the sheltered Brooklyn girl forced to mature when events catch her up nastily and Miller's notion of fate kicks in.

Stoll and Spector (who took over the role from an injured Santino Fontana during previews) are fine as two hopeful newcomers who learn the hard way that stateside life has its downside. Cristofer brings the weight needed as a lawyer whose clients are blue-collar workers with blue-collar troubles. Aside from giving in to a certain weepiness over the horrors he witnesses when a man is driven to betrayal, Cristofer also has the heft to stand in as Miller's idea of a Greek chorus.

While the play never packs less than a knock-out dramatic punch, it does have its weaknesses. It's one thing to use Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and colleagues as models, but it's quite another to keep calling attention to the tactic. Alfieri refers to the Greeks in his opening speech as well as in his closing remarks, where he goes into an inscrutable peroration about Eddie Carbone as a tragic figure. But the truth is Miller really needn't plug away at his exalted influences. A View From the Bridge speaks for itself.