Preview From the Bridge

by Samual G. Freedman
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Illustration: Philip Bannister

As I wedged my way into the lobby of the Cort Theatre in Manhattan minutes before the final preview of A View From the Bridge, I ran into a lean figure in jeans, cloth overcoat, and wool hat. I figured he must have been a stagehand. Then the man turned, and I saw the wire-rim glasses and ruddy face and realized I was looking at the play’s director, Gregory Mosher.

It would be hard to think of a more unassuming pose for a world-class theater artist on such a crucial evening. On Broadway, the last few previews are more important than opening night. While the party and paparazzi wait for the official premiere, the critics watch these performances to get an early start on writing their notices.

This production of Bridge, Arthur Miller’s McCarthy-era parable of a longshoreman consumed by jealousy, was the second on Broadway in nearly 30 years for a play generally not ranked among the author’s greatest. It marked the Broadway debut of Scarlett Johansson, playing opposite the stage veteran Liev Schreiber. The real-time demands of the theater had exposed the weaknesses of many a movie star in the past.

Now, with so much at stake, Mosher was hanging incognito on the periphery. Most directors would enjoy being recognized, and even expect it. Mosher, though, genuinely preferred a kind of invisibility. He has always been about the play.

“To be a writer’s director,” Mosher put it to me recently, “is to trust that what you need to direct is on the page, and to have the discipline to try — and, man, it is hard — to fulfill the writer’s intentions, not yours. The main reason to devote your energy to discovering the play is that the play’s ideas are more complicated and interesting than any idea you could have about it.”

I met Mosher in 1984, when he directed the Broadway premiere of Glengarry Glen Ross, the black comedy about real estate sharks by David Mamet. Mosher and Mamet had collaborated many times already at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, but when Glengarry came to New York, it encountered a sort of Broadway haughtiness, even disdain. Just what could be so terrific, the whispering went, about this no-name director and his no-name cast from the provinces? Mosher had decided against stars like Paul Newman and Al Pacino in favor of an ensemble of Goodman regulars, several of whom had taken up acting as a midlife second career. After rave reviews and a Pulitzer Prize, the dismissive sniffs vanished, and theater people in New York were enviously asking what was so magical about Chicago.

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