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'Bridge' Works

January 14, 2010 By:
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She is one of Arthur Miller's marvels -- women married to husbands who are more mystery than men, emotionally eviscerated weak warriors and nominal heads of the household whose heads are swirling with failed fantasies.

Jessica Hecht's Beatrice knows what it means to be married to such a mangled menace of a man, for it is Eddie Carbone whose incestuous urges for his niece infuse Miller's "A View From the Bridge" with the unavoidable toll road it must take on the entire family.

The 1950s-set drama, with a path to perdition that snakes its way with present-day implications, opens on Jan. 24 at the Cort Theatre on Broadway, some 55 years after it premiered as a one-act drama (reworked in 1956 into two acts).

"Bridge" works -- and Hecht's performance is one of the reasons the revival rivets so. But then, Hecht has her own view from the bravos she has received in past performances, most recently coming off the short-lived revival of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," to the current Brooklyn bathos that bridges the two Broadway families in spirit if not ordeals.

She is indeed in a New York state of mind.

"I love Brooklyn and the history of these places," she says of Brighton Beach, and being hooked by the Red Hook region where "Bridge" blows up in the faces of the Carbones facing their worst fears.

"There is such a history to these places; a depth you have to mine ... the way in which the characters talk to each other, how they think about life."

They speak their minds without being mindful of how it comes out in unfiltered fears and unthinkable rages.

"Nothing is analyzed," as they engage each other, which bespeaks a different time than today. "Now we talk everything out," she says.

Talk is not cheap but eloquent as Miller, the working-class wonk who became the poet of the proletariat, burns "Bridges" with the searing images of scarred survivors, longshoremen and their families, whose longings stop at water's edge on the wharf.

How far is the trip from Brighton Beach to under the Brooklyn Bridge?

Bridges over troubled waters run deep: "Jews and their neurosis in 'Brighton Beach' and the Italians of 'Bridge' ... these are families who had never been to therapy," she explains of the similar circumstances, when neurosis was couched in family feuds rather than at a therapist's office.

Both the Carbones and the Jeromes of "Brighton Beach" -- whose travails travel back to the late '30s rather than the '50s -- "have such honesty; the families are deeply reliant on each other."

Blanche and Beatrice as bosom buddies?

Yes, says the actress, in the sense that "their family struggles end in equally catastrophic results."

The bridge from blintze to braciola was within dining distance for Hecht, rooted as she is in both cultivated cultures. She herself has "deep Jewish roots," while her husband, Adam Bernstein, is half-Italian.

"He could not have been raised in a more ethnic way," she says with a smile in her voice of his Italian background, while she was brought up by parents who stressed the cerebral side of Judaism.

The actress exists outside that non-belief. "From day one, I was born with a belief in Judaism" and God, she says.

She and co-star Liev Schreiber, whose character is caught in an eddy of circumstances that drown his sense of reason beyond the pier, look so natural together. "That's even what the director, Gregory Mosher, said," adds Hecht.

But then, what else could you expect: "You have two Jews playing Italians," with actress Scarlett Johansson as the targeted niece, Catherine, adding her own Jewish spice box to the tragedy.

These are bridge crossings with big ideas, typical for the playwright who latched onto life where it buckled the most. "He gets down to what real people face," and what they refuse to face up to.

"He was a very meat and potatoes man" -- with life's gristle uncut from the trimmings, Hecht says of Miller, whom she worked with when starring in his drama "After the Fall."

It falls to her now, on stage, to support a husband hemmed in by the fates as the writer's drama drains and draws on Greek demons and Italian ids as circumstances give a kiss on the mouth to the mythology of machismo.

Taking in Beatrice's cousins, illegal immigrants from Italy, in their cramped quarters forces Eddie to be overtaken by jealousy as the young Rodolpho (Morgan Spector) tempts the furies by flirting with Catherine.

It is all exhilarating and ...

"It is a tremendous exhaustion that I haven't faced with other plays," says Hecht of the "Bridge" to nowhere traipsed by these trampled-upon characters.

All Pre-Ordained

It is a deeply fulfilling tiredness that comes from portraying the pity and the sorrow seemingly pre-ordained for the Carbones.

"You start the play knowing what's coming," says the actress of the oracular admonitions offered by the town's lawyer, Alfieri (Michael Christofer). "And the heavyweight of the psychology is on you from that start."

But then, she has an excellent cast to help pay the tolls. "Liev has a wealth of intellectual thought about what makes the play work, as does Greg," she says of the director.

And they can share it with an actress who has made some smart moves herself over a career marked by accolades and honors, including her much ballyhooed role as a genteel Jew given over more to the gentile side of life in Alfred Uhry's acclaimed drama of Southern discomfort, "The Last Night of Ballyhoo."

As Lala Levy of Atlanta, she marched across the stage 12 years ago with a sheen and shine that Sherman himself would have applauded.

But Beatrice is not in Lala-land.

"She's about as far away from that as one can get," says Hecht, laughing.

Critics have heaped hechshers on Hecht for a variety of other thought-out stimulating turns, which include a bunch of appearances as Susan Bunch, the lesbian who stole Ross' wife right from under his turned-up nose on "Friends."

Whatever works ... As the psychic who turned Larry David's crystal ball upside-down in Woody Allen's pleasantly dyspeptic "Whatever Works" last year, she could see it all coming.

It was after the fall here, too -- not in a Miller sense -- for the clairvoyant who broke David's character's fall when he jumped out a window.

Feel Her Pain
What becomes Hecht's Beatrice is the window she offers into the sealed-off lives of the careening Carbones. One can feel the pain as she watches her husband hurl himself into turmoil, the longshoreman giving in to his incestuous longings.

Hecht lassoes her apron strings around playing the "good wife" -- she even recently appeared on the same-named TV series, and surely, silent but golden Linda Loman awaits her visit one day in her own Brooklyn abode -- but one whose kitchen creaks with echoes of Greek choruses foretelling the doom and destruction of love illicit.

It is a portrayal of a character -- forever putting up a pot of coffee -- worth even more than raising a glass to.

It is a portrayal of strength worth lifting a chair to, in a performance that proves to be one of the play's seats of power.

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