Schreiber, Johansson Build A 'Bridge' To A Classic Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson are starring in a widely praised revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge. They tell reporter Jeff Lunden that as in all great tragedies, this one's clashes and catastrophes have something of the inevitable about them.
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Schreiber, Johansson Build A 'Bridge' To A Classic

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Schreiber, Johansson Build A 'Bridge' To A Classic

Schreiber, Johansson Build A 'Bridge' To A Classic

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Broadway's newest hit is a 55-year-old play. How can you lose with Arthur Miller and a couple of hot Hollywood stars: Liev Schreiber and, in her Broadway debut, Scarlett Johansson star in "A View from the Bridge."

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: The play was Arthur Miller's attempt to take Greek tragedy and give it an American twist. "A View from the Bridge" is set in blue-collar Red Hook, a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn. It tells the story of a longshoreman, Eddie Carbone, and his obsession with his teenaged niece, Catherine. From the opening moments of the play, there's no question how it's going to end, a character tells the audience that Eddie Carbone is a dead man walking. Liev Schreiber plays Eddie. He says even with this knowledge, the audience is on tenterhooks all evening.

Mr. LIEV SCHREIBER (Actor, "A View from the Bridge"): That's sort of Greek tragedy, isn't it? I mean, you know, from the outset exactly what's going to happen. The only question is how.

LUNDEN: How, is director Gregory Mosher's job. He says the challenge is to make every moment in this taut 97 minute drama as specific and revealing as possible.

Mr. GREGORY MOSHER (Director, "A View from the Bridge"): The actors have to act in such a compelling way that the audience is in the moment and then, if you're really lucky and the actors are really good, they will stop time.

LUNDEN: And, Mosher adds, these actors really are good. He worked with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, who plays Catherine, to find a natural physicality to their relationship.

Mr. MOSHER: Eddie loves Catherine and is free to love Catherine. She's his niece. He has raised her. He has every right in the world to love her, to hold her, to throw his arms around her. And we figured out early that neither of them could be self-conscious about that. And that the audience would start to go, oh, that might be crossing a line. But you see that in neither of their eyes are they crossing the line. It's pure familial love.

(Soundbite of play, "A View from the Bridge")

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON (Actor): (As Catherine) Guess how much we paid for this skirt?

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) I think it's too short, ain't it?

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) No, not when I stand up?

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) Yeah, but you got to sit down sometimes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) Eddie, it's the style now. I mean, if you see me walking down the street.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) Listen, you've been giving me the willies the way you walk down the street, I mean it.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) Why?

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) Now, Catherine, I don't want to be a pest but I'm telling you, you're walking wavy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) I'm walking wavy?

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) Don't aggravate me, Katie, you're walking wavy. I don't like the looks they're giving you in the candy store. And with them new high heels on the sidewalk clack, clack, clack. The heads are turning like windmills.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) But those guys look at all the girls, you know that.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) You ain't all the girls.

LUNDEN: Catherine ain't all the girls to Eddie. And when two illegal Italian immigrants - cousins of Eddie's wife, Beatrice come to stay in their tiny apartment and Catherine falls for one of them, the tragedy is set in motion. Jessica Hecht plays Beatrice.

Ms. JESSICA HECHT (Actor, "A View from the Bridge"): As we were working in this rehearsal room, what happened was the language of the play and the way in which we interacted as characters and as actors was deeply agitating in a great way. It made us very upset. And it made me feel very uncomfortable. And that is because the actual story of the play was working on us.

LUNDEN: Director Gregory Mosher says Beatrice is a pivotal force in the drama.

Mr. MOSHER: It's Beatrice who drives the play, in a way, because it's Beatrice who knows what's going on and from the first moments in the play, is trying to warn Eddie and trying to warn Catherine that disaster lies ahead unless they change their behavior.

(Soundbite of play, "A View from the Bridge")

Ms. HECHT: (As Beatrice) I told you 50 times already, you can't act the way you act. You still walk around in front of him in your slip.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) Well, I forgot.

Ms. HECHT: (As Beatrice) Well, you can't do it. Or like you sit on the edge of the bathtub talking to him when he is shaving in his underwear.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) When when did I do that?

Ms. HECHT: (As Beatrice) I seen you in there this morning.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) Oh, I had something I wanted to tell him and I

Ms. HECHT: (As Beatrice) I know, honey. But if you act like a baby I'll be treating you like a baby, right. When you come home sometimes, you throw yourself at him like when you was 12 years old.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) I like to see him and I'm happy.

Ms. HECHT: (As Beatrice) Look, I'm not telling you what to do.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Catherine) No, no, you can tell me, Bea. Gee, I I'm all mixed up. See, he looks so sad and now and it hurts me.

LUNDEN: Scarlett Johansson says Catherine's character grows over the course of the play.

Ms. JOHANSSON: She's not innocent. She says in that second act, the beginning of the second act she says, I know a lot more than people think I know. I'm not a baby. And I think that she is, in a sense, aware of her effect on Eddie. I mean, she's young and she doesn't realize what the consequence of that is.

LUNDEN: Eddie gets more and more haunted by the feelings he doesn't dare express. He goes to a lawyer to try and figure out how to keep his niece from marrying her immigrant cousin.

(Soundbite of play, "A View from the Bridge")

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) So, what have I got to do now? Tell me what to do.

Mr. MICHAEL CRISTOFER (Actor): (As Alfieri) She actually said she's marrying him?

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) She told me, yeah. So what do I do?

Mr. CRISTOFER: (As Alfieri) This is my last word, Eddie, take it or not, that's your business. Morally, legally you have no rights. You cannot stop it. She is a free agent.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Eddie) Didn't you hear what I told you?

Mr. CRISTOFER: (As Alfieri) I heard what you told me, and I'm telling you what the answer is. Now, I'm not only telling you now, I'm warning you the law is nature. The law is it's only a word for what has a right to happen. When the law is wrong, it's unnatural, but in this case it is natural as a river will drown you if you buck it now. Let her go. And bless her.

LUNDEN: The tension escalates when Eddie comes home from work early, a little tipsy, and discovers that Catherine has slept with Rodolpho. And in a highly charged scene, he first kisses Catherine on the lips and then, he does the same with Rodolpho. Liev Schreiber.

Mr. SCHREIBER: I can only imagine what it must have been like in 1955. That must have been great. But it's amazing, it still gets a big gasp, which is really fun. It almost throws me to hear the audience gasp like that but I find it really exciting when they do.

LUNDEN: The only way Eddie can prevent the wedding of Catherine to Rodolpho is to break another taboo. He becomes a snitch and calls Immigration to get the cousins deported, says director Gregory Mosher.

Mr. MOSHER: Eddie hates that he makes that phone call, clearly. I mean, Liev, you can see, is physically ill in front of you before he makes the phone call. But he has no choice. Like any character in a real tragedy, he only has this one choice and he betrays his family, his friends and himself in that act.

LUNDEN: And from there the tragedy hurtles to its conclusion. Liev Schreiber says he's astonished by how much Arthur Miller packs into this lean play with outsized emotions.

Mr. SCHREIBER: I just think Miller puts one hook after another into you, both as the actor and as the audience. Every scene has a massive hook in it that just gets you straight in your solar plexus and yanks you into the next scene.

LUNDEN: "A View from the Bridge," is playing at the Cort Theater on Broadway until April 4th.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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