“…it’s kind of terrifying how relevant it is all of a sudden. And I’m hoping … that people are going to hear this play this time around in a way that maybe they have not heard it before.”
I was speaking with Andrus Nichols who plays Beatrice in the acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge directed by Ivo Van Hove. The production has garnered numerous awards including an Olivier and two Tony Awards for Best Direction and Best Revival of a Play. It began at the Young Vic in London and has had productions in the West End, Paris, Broadway, Los Angeles at Center Theatre Group, and now, the Kennedy Center.
Andrus is also a co-founder of Bedlam (along with Eric Tucker, director of Folger’s recent production of Sense and Sensibility), a New York City theatre company “committed to the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience,” creating works that “reinvigorate traditional forms” of theatre. They brought their four-actor, repertory versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Shaw’s Saint Joan to Olney Theatre Center in 2013.
Starting off with the big question: how do you think this play fits into our world now, especially post-election in DC?
Well, it’s a play about immigration in a lot of ways, and it’s a play about what is moral versus what is legal. It’s dealing with family dynamics and somebody calling out immigrants. It’s pretty astonishing. We just did a run through today. That was the first time we’ve been back in a room together since the middle of October in Los Angeles. It was fascinating to hear it out loud again, standing in the moment of the country that we are all currently standing in (however one may feel about that). It felt relevant earlier in the fall, and now, it’s kind of terrifying how relevant it is all of a sudden. And I’m hoping, especially doing it here in a city that has both a striving theatre scene and is obviously a very politically-encased city, that people are going to hear this play this time around in a way that maybe they have not heard it before.
This production has had a long journey – when did you jump in?
This entire cast was new when it went to the Ahmanson theatre at Center Theatre Group [in Los Angeles]. There is no one in it now that was in the original Broadway cast.
What has that been like? Working on an existing production with an entirely new cast?
It was amazing because the whole production existed when we started rehearsal. So, we showed up, and on day one, we were working on a mock up of the set, with sound, and in full costume. We did a table read, and then we just started learning the blocking.
I’ve never worked that way, and I was curious about that kind of process – wondering if it’d feel removed or robotic in some way, or if I’d feel like I really got to own my own performance. [We were] learning blocking that had come out of another actor’s impulses. But the blocking is so logical, simple, and smart. There are a lot of micro movements in it. But it provided a really tight structure, and I think all of us, right out of the gate, felt really free within that structure. All of our energy was then focused on the relationships and the storytelling, and we didn’t have to worry about any of the blocking. So, weirdly enough, you have eight actors in the play, that are eight completely different actors than [those] that discovered the blocking, and we are all very different than the people we were replacing (energetically, etc.), and yet, it completely works. It’s totally alive and feels totally organic and personal even though it’s eight completely different people.
So you feel that you were still able to make it your own even within the given blocking?
Absolutely. Being given all of that blocking right up front actually created this architecture that you could go in to and be really quite free.
That really challenges my definition of the theatrical process.
Mine too! With Bedlam, I’m used to going into a room and having some sense of what the thing is going to look like in the end, but really, we’re discovering it as we are rehearsing. So, I’ve never done anything like this before.
Was the director, Ivo Van Hove, a part of your rehearsal process?
We rehearsed in New York with the associate director, Jeff James, who has been with the production since its original incarnation at the Young Vic. We worked with Jeff in New York, and Ivo met us out in LA for a few days. He saw some run-throughs, gave us notes, and was available to us to talk things through. We mostly worked with Jeff. It’s a pretty beautiful power structure, though. This team is really trusting. Obviously, Ivo completely trusts Jeff. And they trust the actors. It’s a very generous and efficient room. It was a lovely rehearsal process.
How long did you rehearse?
Three weeks before going to LA. Having mounted it before, they knew so much about it. They knew what worked, and what wasn’t going to work. So the direction you got was so clear and tested.
Can you describe the play’s style?
It’s very bare. The costumes in many ways are suggestive of the mid-50s, but there is no furniture. There are no props, save one. It feels very timeless and archetypal in a way that is almost Greek.
The production has been so successful – receiving many awards. Why do you think it’s been so successful?
This play is [often] done with all of the 1950s trappings, and it is presented as a slice-of-life, family drama with a kitchen table and a living room and bad 1950s upholstery. There is something about opening it up and allowing it to feel like you could be anywhere and at any time in history. It lets the size of the story, of this family and these themes, really breathe in a way that people see it’s a bigger play and a bigger story than they thought. It resonates across time and culture in a way that maybe it doesn’t when you do it in a fully fleshed out, 1950s Brooklyn apartment.
That makes me think of what you do with Bedlam in a way.
Yes. That’s there in a similar way. I would say that the Bedlam productions are less stylized. They are kind of scrappier. This has many more design elements involved, and a lot of careful thought and decision-making went into every element of this piece. [For instance,] just the sound design alone: the whole play is underscored from the beginning to the end.
closes December 3, 2016
Details and tickets
Right. I’m also thinking of when I interviewed Eric Tucker about Sense and Sensibility at the Folger, he attributed the success of that production to the fact that it wasn’t treated as a purely period piece.
When you take something out of its expected context, people start to lean forward and listen in a different way. There is nothing in A View from the Bridge between the audience and the words of the play. There is nothing to get in the way; there’s nothing to get distracted by. You will hear the play. And I think in a way that can be a bit startling. Even if you’ve seen it before, you’ve never seen it like this.
What excites you most about this show?
A few things. First of all, it’s an hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. It’s very intense. It starts, and the tension builds, and the intensity builds, and it never lets up. I think it’s really exciting. With no intermission, you’re able to hold the tension all the way through to the end without giving anyone a break from it. So, when you get to the end of performing it, it’s pretty exhausting emotionally. But I think the fact that it is so relentless in its presentation, and the fact that this version is cut in such a way that they don’t let you off the hook – neither the actors nor the audience is let off the hook for a moment from start to finish – you get that much more of the size of it.
It’s also a pretty incredible cast. These are really fun people to work with. I’m super excited to be jumping back onstage with this particular group of people. I’m also hoping that is going to be an incredibly receptive city for this kind of a play, and as I said before, especially in this moment.
Did you find that Los Angeles was ready for this play?
LA was great. It was very well received in LA; we had very nice houses. I think that it is a little more outside the box for the LA theatre scene than it is for the DC theatre scene. I’m imagining that the houses here will be pretty full and many people in the audience will have at least read it, if not seen it before. I don’t know how much that was the case in LA.
The Ahmanson theatre at Center Theatre Group is a big space for such an intimate play (it seats about 2,000). What was that like?
It was huge! It was really big and cavernous. The playing space that we are working with for this production is quite small. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s 18 by 25 feet, and it’s in this little box on stage with audience seating on two sides. And the Ahmanson was huge. I just stepped inside the Eisenhower here [at the Kennedy Center] today, and it’s about half the size of the Ahmanson. I think that’s going to be great for us. Because it’s a very intimate piece, and the style of the storytelling is still very intimate. At any one moment, it’s just people talking to each other. So, the closer you are, the better.
Is there a life beyond the Kennedy Center for this production?
Not for this particular run of it. I think it’s just a two-stop tour for this cast.
What is next for you then?
I’m going to the McCarter. I start rehearsals about ten days after we finish this for Bedlam’s Hamlet and Saint Joan. I’m doing those again. We do that in January and February, and then after, I have no idea!
How long has it been since you’ve done Bedlam’s Hamlet/Joan?
The last time we did Joan was in January 2015 in Boston, and we have not done Hamlet since we ran it off-Broadway right after it was at Olney. We ran it off-Broadway for about four months, and we closed it in February 2014. We have not looked at it since then. So, that’s going to be crazy. I’m really looking forward to it. Those plays are a lot of fun, and it will be with the original cast.
That has to be wild to revisit those characters after so much time away.
Yeah. And of course, we just had this election, what, two weeks ago? So, I’m sure I, like everybody else, am still reeling from it a bit. But in the world, and especially in this country, it feels like I’m looking at such a different political landscape than I thought I would be looking at in this moment. So, even in those plays, things are going to come to light [that didn’t before].
Saint Joan is an incredibly political play, and it’s going to be really interesting to play this woman [now]. I think I’ve performed it over 400 times, because we’ve had so many runs of it. It’s hard for me to not see, in this incarnation, for the first time, that I’m playing a woman who believes that everybody who doesn’t speak her language should get out of her country. And who also believes very fervently that God is speaking through her; that this is not only the right thing to do, but worth waging large wars over. So, I think my personal experience of it is going to be very different this time around.
Wow. Yeah. We typically think of Joan as this strong, brave woman. I never thought of her in that way before.
I remember when we were doing it at Olney, we were about eight weeks into the run, when there was a mall shooting in Kenya. And I remember having a moment during that epilogue as this realization hit me that she was, among other things, a militant religious fundamentalist. And I hadn’t really ever thought of her like that before. She was waging war based on what she believed was the divine right. I remember that hitting me and being so shocked by it. She also ended the Hundred Years War, so there were certainly upsides of it. But it was a holy war.
Is there anything you think DC audiences should know about A View from the Bridge?
I just think that in this moment in our history, I feel so lucky to be a part of this particular production of this play in this moment in time. I think there probably isn’t a better city in America to be performing it right now, and I think it would be a real shame to miss it. I think it’s going to be a particularly special run.