WHAT: "A View from the Bridge"
WHERE: Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
INFO: $42.50-$126.50; 212-239-6200; aviewfromthebridgeonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE: Shattering Schreiber and Arthur Miller
Over a decade of New York theater, Liev Schreiber has coolly skinned the layers of darkness off some of its most thrilling and complex tough guys. He has been sleaze triumphant in David Mamet and Eric Bogosian, silken menace in Harold Pinter, crumbling evil as Shakespeare's Macbeth and Iago.
Even so, nothing prepares us for the shattering grandeur of his Eddie Carbone - the Brooklyn longshoreman who loves his wife's 17-year-old niece too much in Gregory Mosher's taut, muscular, understated staging of Arthur Miller's ripe 1957 Italian-American folk tragedy, "A View From the Bridge."
The actor, whose power often comes from what he chooses to hide behind his implacable face, here lets himself reveal all the tenderness, the confusion and catastrophic passion that Eddie cannot begin to comprehend.
It is an amazing performance, as monumental as it is intimate and human. In no way is this a star-turn for limited-attention Broadway. Everyone, including Scarlett Johansson in her natural, admirable Broadway debut as the niece, is playing for keeps - a decision that comes as close as I've seen to a satisfying solution to the strainings of the play.
For reasons that have always escaped me, Miller needed the play to be more than a gripping slice-of-life immigrant story of a decent man whose taboo passion and pride destroy himself and the Sicilian-American neighborhood. Miller contrives a foreboding Greek chorus in the form of an immigration lawyer (the good Michael Cristofer), who periodically talks to us about "destiny," and how Eddie's "bloody course" has somehow been chartered by ancient forces of truth.
Mosher goes straight for the bone here, with a dark, straightforward set of brick tenements and small, drab apartments where secrets cannot be kept. Johannson is comfortably voluptuous and unselfconscious as the budding woman who hasn't learned the boundaries that must separate her from the man who raised her. Jessica Hecht is wrenching as Eddie's long-suffering wife. When two illegal immigrants (Morgan Spector, a seductive sunbeam, and the serious Corey Stoll) take refuge in the flat, disaster awaits.
Finally, the stage is set for Schreiber's Eddie to deteriorate from head of the family to its tormented destroyer. The lawyer describes him as a man who couldn't "settle for half." I'm still not sure about Eddie, but Schreiber certainly does not.