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A View from the Bridge

American Players Theatre, 2017

Terry Teachout – The Wall Street Journal

American Players Theatre is the great open secret of American regional theater. Founded in 1980 in the tiny rural village that is also home to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin estate, APT produces nine plays each year, eight in the summer and one in the winter, performed in a handsome pair of theaters by a resident ensemble of 13 actors augmented by 31 summer-only performers, many of them company veterans as well. The repertory consists of classics and 20th-century masterpieces, and the audience is mostly drawn from the surrounding area. Surprisingly few people outside Wisconsin know of APT’s existence, yet it is America’s finest classical theater festival, unrivaled for the unfailing excellence of its productions. Nowhere else—not even in New York or Chicago—will you see such plays done more stylishly or excitingly. This last comparison will ring especially true for anyone in a position to compare APT’s magnificent new production of A View From the Bridge with Ivo van Hove’s self- indulgent 2015 Broadway staging. Unlike that flatulent exercise in Eurotrashy gimmickry, Tim Ocel’s small-scale production of Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama of incestuous love on the waterfront, mounted in the Touchstone Theatre, APT’s 200-seat indoor house, is a masterpiece of sustained tension. Performed by a cast of the highest possible quality led by Jim DeVita, a 23-year company veteran, it is, together with Mike Nichols’s 2012 Broadway version of Death of a Salesman, one of the two best Miller revivals I’ve ever seen. Every aspect of Mr. Ocel’s production is distinguished, not least Takeshi Kata’s set, a near-abstract assemblage of wooden warehouse pallets that is appropriately stark and austere. But it is Mr. DeVita who catapults it into the stratosphere. Unless you frequent Spring Green, you probably aren’t aware that he is one of America’s leading classical actors. Until now, though, I’d never seen him in a purely naturalistic role, and I confess to being just a bit surprised to discover that he can change hats with complete ease. His performance as Eddie Carbone, the hardworking, easy-to- anger Brooklyn longshoreman who harbors an illicit passion for his innocent young niece ( Melisa Pereyra ), is replete with the same force and focus that he brings to Shakespeare. Had Robert DeNiro chosen to be a classical stage actor instead of a movie star, he might well have given a performance as good as this one.

Mr. DeVita is also a gifted writer and director, and APT is featuring him in both of those capacities in his own adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a play too often staged with a winking levity that undermines its wholehearted romanticism. Far from being a postmodern ironist, Rostand’s long-nosed protagonist ( James Ridge ) is the truest of believers in old-fashioned heroism, and there is nothing remotely funny about his inability to confess his love to the beauteous Roxane ( Laura Rook ). Yes, Cyrano is corny, but if you play it that way, it doesn’t work: It must be done sincerely or not at all. That’s why neither of the past two Broadway revivals, with Kevin Kline in 2007 and Douglas Hodge in 2012, quite came off. Both productions lacked the underlying gravity without which Cyrano’s flights of rhetoric can end up sounding silly. Mr. DeVita and Mr. Ridge, by contrast, give us a Cyrano of near-Shakespearean weight, never exaggerated and never frivolous. The harmonious nature of their approach is made clear as soon as Cyrano makes his first entrance—his nose is only just long enough to explain his incapacitating self-consciousness—and Mr. Ridge, who is as accomplished an actor as Mr. DeVita, speaks Rostand’s verse with such fiery elegance that you are never in doubt of his fundamental seriousness. As for Ms. Rook, she is more than equal to the challenge of appearing opposite Mr. Ridge. Radiant and passionate, she is also palpably intelligent, which is the point of the part: She cannot love a man who is, like Christian ( Danny Martinez ), her younger suitor, beautiful but dumb.

Mr. DeVita has opted for his own English-language version of Rostand’s 1897 play, much but not all of it cast in loose iambic pentameter, in preference to Anthony Burgess’s stricter, now-standard verse adaptation. I can see why. Burgess’s version is well-turned and marvelously witty, but it is not the work of a man of the theater. Mr. DeVita’s adaptation, by contrast, reminds me of Charles Laughton’s English-language version of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo: Even the most ornately phrased passages are easily speakable, an essential consideration for successful production in APT’s 1,088-seat Up-the- Hill Theatre, the outdoor amphitheater where the play is being presented. It is the crowning touch of a Cyrano in which all the pieces fit together perfectly, one that I cannot imagine being bettered.

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