It’s amazing how significantly a change of venue can affect how a play lands with an audience. The impact might not always be as apparent as it is with different directors and casts, but it’s very real. When Noah Haidle’s Smokefall was presented in 2013 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre and then enjoyed a 2014 encore in the Albert with the same director and cast, what hadn’t worked for me in the small theater magically hit home in the larger one. It’s hard to tell how much difference it made to see Hamilton recently at the capacious Nederlander as compared to the CIBC Theatre that housed its initial Chicago run given that the cast is completely changed, but the CIBC did provide a more intimate, connected experience.
What had me thinking about this phenomenon in depth, though, was seeing Shattered Globe’s astonishing storefront production of Arthur Miller’s classic A View From the Bridge last week at Theater Wit. It was a markedly different experience than seeing Ivo van Hove’s dazzling 2017 reinvention at the Goodman, which came complete with cascading blood. Even from the onstage seats, the Broadway-level effects and the huge auditorium full of punters just past the lip of the stage left me experiencing the Ivo van Hove production from something of a remove as the drama relentlessly barreled toward its tragic, malignant conclusion with not so much as an intermission to take a breath.
The only bells and whistles evident at the Shattered Globe production may drift in from the ships lying unseen at the docks where Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Scott Aiello, in an aching, powerhouse turn) plies his trade circa 1950. A poster boy for toxic masculinity three decades before the phrase was coined, Eddie destroys his family and upends the lives of illegal immigrant brothers living in their cramped apartment because he’s fixated on his niece, Catherine (played by Isabelle Muthiah with just the right mix of wholesome affection and teenage boundary pushing).
This 1955 masterwork, a visceral gut punch from start to finish, is brought to gritty life in part by this humble theatrical home where fewer than 100 people make for a packed house. A View From the Bridge goes with storefront theater like chocolate pairs with peanut butter, but this production would succeed on its own terms pretty much anywhere. That’s undoubtedly aided by the fact that director Louis Contey also helmed a heralded Shattered Globe production of the show in 1993. Contey’s passion for and familiarity with the play, which explores social themes that remain sadly relevant today, is evident in every beat.
Which brings me to the beating heart of this show, Eileen Niccolai, who plays Eddie’s wife, Beatrice, with a harrowing desperation always balanced by a deep love for her family, including both Eddie and Catherine. Hers is a riveting performance that refuses to let the audience pass smug judgment on the situation. She must have been mature well beyond her years to have also pulled off this role 30 years ago in the first Shattered Globe production, but I have no doubt that she did.
Like Beatrice, Miller sees the complicated truth of things. Is one of the Italian brothers, a charming dreamer named Rodolfo (played with wit and grace by Harrison Weger) courting Catherine in part to stay in the country. Yes, of course. But does he love her deeply? Also yes. John Judd, as the neighbohood attorney who relates the tale, can tell right away that Eddie is destined to commit terrible acts, but he also sees some of his nobler aspects. There are no easy answers in this claustrophobic apartment full of people simmering with passion and rage, but it certainly is exhilarating to be trapped in there with them.
Shattered Globe Theatre’s A View From the Bridge runs through October 21 at Theater Wit.
For a full roundup of reviews of this show, visit Theatre in Chicago.
Photo by Liz Lauren