“A View from the Bridge” by Long Wharf Theatre at the Canal Dock Boathouse

Robert Schneider in New Haven, Connecticut
4 March 2024


Productions of this wonderful play abound internationally. Chichester Festival Theatre (UK) has recently staged it and a production is slated for London in early summer.


The ensemble.
Photo credit: Curtis Brown Photography.


So, the backdrop to this production by Long Wharf Theatre at the Canal Dock Boathouse? It was my first Long Wharf show since the theatre’s wrenching exodus from its home of 57 years on Long Wharf Drive. After the pandemic hollowed out its audience, the space became too expensive to keep. As part of the move, the theatre held a series of rummage sales at that location which seemed to harbinger the end of the Long Wharf as a producing organization. When a theatre sells its props and its tools, its spare lamps, and its greasepaint  you have to ask if it will ever mount a play again? I mean a real play, with sets and costumes and lights? Looking at the Long Wharf lobby full of must-have theatre equipment for sale, it seemed the answer would be “No, never again!”

Artistic director Jacob G. Padrón and managing director Kit Ingui put a brave face on the move: the Long Wharf would become an itinerant institution devoted to rethinking “how a regional theatre makes its art.” It would go into the community to serve new audiences in new ways. Still, the theatre lost more than half of its board of directors and trimmed a bit more than half of its staff.

But some help came from grants. And they still had a modest endowment. More importantly, ditching the space on Long Wharf Drive would save $500,000 a year that could be put into programming. It would also make productions accessible to people on foot or using public transit, something that was all but impossible in the old space. When the theatre was founded in 1965, that space—in the New Haven Food Terminal next to a sausage factory—was a declaration of principle: “No downtown culture palace for us, oh no!” But the Food Terminal is sandwiched between an Interstate highway and the railroad tracks. It had ample parking for suburbanites coming in cars (or in 18-wheel trucks) but was almost unreachable by other means. Still, it was the only home the theatre had ever known.


Last year they tried out a variety of spaces: the local state college theatre, a branch of the public library, a public park or two, even private homes. The management hoped the scattered venues would rejuvenate and diversify its audiences—which had been largely white and hugely geriatric for years. To this end, Padrón programmed new plays by playwrights of colour: Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady, Eliana Pipes’s Dream House, and Madhuri Shekar’s Queen. In a fund-raising appeal, the theatre emphasized the loftiness of its quest:

… in partnership with a dedicated staff and Board, we are centring marginalized voices, including artists of colour, women, and trans and nonbinary voices who have been historically excluded by the American theatre and throughout our organization’s history, and we are beginning to right this wrong. Long Wharf Theatre provides bespoke resources to fuel artists’ creativity as they create a commission, develop a new work, or begin to stage a production while paying for their intellectual capital as thought partners to our artistic, learning, and community organizing departments. Now in our 58th season, we aspire to be a company by, with, and for its community, intentionally shifting our work from a brick-and-mortar space to stages and public spaces throughout New Haven.

The question remained whether the Long Wharf could still produce ageing plays for ageing white audiences, the audiences that had made its reputation (a Tony Award in 1978!) and supported it financially for years. Was the theatre still able? Or even interested? Having seen the current production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, I can answer both questions with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

The production grew out of Padrón’s visit to the glassed-in upper room of the city-owned Canal Dock Boathouse. While only a few hundred metres from the theatre’s former home, the boathouse, built in 2018, was on the other side of the interstate and directly on the waterfront. The bottom floor is actually a boathouse devoted to promoting water access for city residents; the upper room had been used for weddings, seminars, and conferences but never for theatre. Standing there and seeing New Haven’s commercial docks just across the channel, Padrón thought instantly of the first play he had worked on after graduating from Yale Drama School in 2008: A View from the Bridge. It didn’t hurt that the giant bridge that takes the interstate across New Haven Harbour is clearly visible from the promenade that circles the room: a view from the bridge implies a view of the bridge.

At night the space becomes even more evocative as the lights of freighters and tugboats inch through the darkness. The production would discover another benefit when, early in the run, it snowed. Actors entering from the promenade, now strewn with crates and pallets to represent a 1950s waterfront, had to stamp snow off their feet and brush it off their costumes—and the scene is set on Christmas Eve! Admiring audience members asked director James Dean Palmer how he had managed to make it snow.

You-Shin Chen supplies a deep-focus set whose strong diagonals vibrate in the odd-shaped room, providing an off-kilter analogy to Eddie Carbone’s mind. Lighting designer Kate McGee pulled the Long Wharf’s instruments out of storage and set them on a multiplicity of struts—a steel cage that nicely doubles the psychological cage of Carbone’s suppressed desire for his niece.

I’ve read reviews of former productions and Miller’s own accounts in Timebends. When The View from the Bridge was first produced, nobody suspected that Carbone’s fascination with Rudolfo might be the thin edge of homoeroticism. The Lord Chamberlin denied the play a license in the U.K. only because Eddie accuses Rudolfo of homosexuality, not because the kiss between them manifests Eddie’s own sexuality. In this production it’s easy to see that Eddie is jealous of Rudolfo for having Catherine but equally jealous of Catherine for having Rudolfo, a double whammy of closeted passion.

Yet Palmer has added nothing new to the action, and Dominic Fumusa, in a bravura performance, plays Eddie with fierce and consistent masculinity. The answer can only be that over 75 years the audience has learned to perceive the play differently; overt repulsion tips us off to the possibility of covert attraction. The play hasn’t changed, but the world has pivoted around it, one of the reasons why it’s worth reviving old plays.

The entire cast is excellent with Annie Parisse particularly strong as Eddie’s wife Beatrice and Paten Hughes as Catherine. As the two illegal immigrants they harbour, Antonio Magro is wonderfully sympathetic as Marco, the older brother, and Mark Junek (as young Rudolfo) almost airborne with joy to be in America. (During the talkback I attended, an audience member volunteered that “immigration is still relevant today”, a glaring understatement even in the domain of predictably hesitant post-show discussions.)

There is a lawyer in most of Arthur Miller’s major plays. Alfieri, the lawyer/narrator in this one, was originally intended for a male actor, but Patricia Black brings tremendous depth and nuance to the role. (At the aforementioned Chichester production, Alfieri is also played by a woman, The Crown actor Nancy Crane.)  Beneath Black’s hard-bitten dialogue, we sense a compassion for Eddie that is almost maternal, as if Jocasta were called upon to give legal advice to Oedipus and recount his story. With Ms. Black in the role the gender change enriches the play.

This production makes it clear that the Long Wharf can reach out to new audiences without repudiating the craftsmanship (or the plays) that endeared them to their old audiences. The Long Wharf’s first show in 1965 was The Crucible and Miller later used it to develop and refine Broken Glass. It’s a relief to see that it’s still with us.

The pandemic struck American non-profits hard. Some have closed; many are on their beam-ends. Many eyes will be on New Haven to see if the Long Wharf can make this work. I truly hope they can.