Andrus Nichols and Catherine Combs didn't know what to expect when they were cast in a tour of Arthur Miller's portrait of a family in crisis, A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove.
The production, which originated at London's Young Vic Theatre, famously made a splash on Broadway in 2015, where it earned Tonys for Best Revival of a Play and Best Director. Shortly after it closed in 2016, van Hove's intense reimagining of the drama, which seats rows of audience members around a cage-like stage setup, headed across the country to Los Angeles, where a whole new set of actors jumped into the ring.
Nichols, a cofounder of New York theater troupe Bedlam, was cast as Beatrice, the long-suffering wife of Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, with Combs, who has been seen in Gloria and The Hairy Ape, as Catherine, the niece Eddie lusts after. The Center Theatre Group production later moved to Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center.
Now, a full year since their journey began, Nichols and Combs are currently in Chicago, where the Goodman Theatre's mounting of van Hove's production has begun performances. For this engagement, they're joined by an entirely new company, which has provided the pair with a rare opportunity to rediscover their characters, plowing even further into the depths of Miller's Greek-style tragedy and van Hove's radical reinterpretation.
Tell me about the process of creating your characters for the 2016 tour — and re-creating your characters for this production opposite an entirely new cast.
Andrus Nichols: It was a really interesting concept to step into a staging that already existed and had been born out of another set of actors. I think that was much more fun than I had anticipated it to be. It was a little bit disorienting and stressful for the first week that we rehearsed in New York. But once you got the architecture of the whole thing, because it is so specific, I feel like that structure allowed me so much freedom from very early on.
Catherine Combs: I have to agree with Andrus about the idea of liberation within the form of it. It was intense in the first week, but it really did set me free in a lot of ways. There has been an extremely meticulous effort to maintain the integrity of the original iteration while also giving us the freedom to move around in our own way. The production is very special, and the alchemy is very specific. Everyone involved has made an earnest effort to honor that.
Andrus: Each new cast member is, in many ways, so chemically different than the person they're replacing. We get to come back and have the luxury to know it so well, but we're also getting the gift of having everything be extremely fresh because we're working with an entirely different recipe of people.
This production is noted for its intensity. How do you get yourself in the mindset to do it each night, and how do you shed the play on your way home?
Catherine: For me, it's pretty seamless to drop into it. Once you enter that set, it's very easy to forget anything that exists outside of it for the moment. And then, for the sake of not giving away the ending, there is a catharsis that happens. I think if that moment didn't happen, I wouldn't be able to walk out and fall asleep easy. There is something about the way that it's been reimagined and interpreted this time around that allows that journey from start to finish to come full circle.
Andrus: The experience is very contained. Once you're out of that box, you're out of that box. You can leave it there. As untidy a play as it is, the production itself is remarkably tidy.
Andrus, is the experience of having the audience onstage in this production akin to the Bedlam shows, like Sense and Sensibility, that you've been in?
Andrus: Weirdly, no. With Bedlam, we are in the room with that audience from the first moment, and there's never an attempt to pretend that we're not. We look at them and interact with them and move around them. With the exception of Alfieri, there's not really any fourth-wall-breaking going on here. I do remember at the very first View preview in L.A. feeling really aware that I was onstage with an audience and I wasn't allowed to look at them. For the first four or five minutes, it was really startling.
Catherine, as a performer who's been involved with remounts, how does this experience compare with, say, Gloria, which you brought to the Goodman earlier this year?
Catherine: I know what it feels like to return to something after a year where it's been laying dormant inside of you while you're experiencing other shows and whatever's happening in your personal life, but when I've returned, it's always with the original cast intact. So this has been an entirely new experience, which has taught me how to work in a new way. This iteration of the journey has taught me a lot about trust.
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