Northern Stage founder takes Miller adaptation to New York
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | January 21,2013
When Northern Stage severed its ties with its founding director, it eliminated her groundbreaking project from its performance schedule. Undaunted, Brooke Ciardelli continued work on her Arab-American adaptation of the Arthur Miller classic, “A View from the Bridge.”
On Jan. 13, it had its first public reading at New York City's famed Public Theater.
“It was amazing,” Ciardelli said in a phone interview from New York City.
“Part of the purpose of the reading was to find out, OK, so you have this idea, you think it's great, other people seem to be really on board with it, but does it really, in fact work, when it's read out loud?” the Norwich resident said. “I was obviously nervous because there were some people who could potentially have influence on the future of the project. You wish you could have some more development with some actors out loud prior to some important people coming in.
“But it was just terrific,” Ciardelli said.
Miller's 1955 “A View from the Bridge” chronicles the difficulties of an Italian-American immigrant family in Brooklyn and the emotional explosion that happens when events push them over the edge. In Ciardelli's adaptation, the central family was updated to Muslim Syrian-Americans.
“Although the countries and cultures have changed,” she said, “the issues surrounding immigration are still at the heart of American politics, and there is no greater play that confronts these issues than 'A View From The Bridge.'”
Ciardelli couldn't have tackled the project without the permission of the Arthur Miller Trust, but she had a history with the organization as well as the late playwright himself while at Northern Stage.
“We have encouraged Brooke's vision and look forward to the future possibilities of this production,” Julia Bolous of the Arthur Miller Trust said.
Stephen Marino, editor of The Arthur Miller Journal, said, “This new version shows how these same emotions can infect an Arab-American family in contemporary Brooklyn.”
Ciardelli has been working with cultural advisers including two Arabic-speaking people from the beginning. Although all the character names and locations have changed, only about 10 percent of the text has changed into Arabic.
“But it's none of the core plot that has changed,” Ciardelli said. “If a character were to say, 'Oh my God, they're coming already,' the 'Oh my God' would change to Arabic – the emotional expression – while 'I can't believe they're coming already' stays in English.”
During last Sunday's reading by professional Arab-American actors, Ciardelli learned there are minor changes needed.
“For example, when someone's mother tongue is Arabic and they're speaking English, they don't use abbreviations,” she said. “They don't say, 'Aren't you glad to see me?' They say, 'Are you not glad to see me?'” That I discovered through the reading.”
Northern Stage had scheduled a full production for May 1-19 and has not yet announced a replacement.
“When Northern Stage, the White River Junction Equity (union) professional theater that Ciardelli founded and directed for 15 years, decided to cancel the production, an investor came forward and provided funding for the New York reading.” Ciardelli said. “The original costume designer and set designer who joined the project with me at Northern Stage are staying on with the project.”
Now that some important people have seen the project, it's up to Ciardelli to sell it.
“There's no question that there will be a production of the show,” she said. “It's now just a question of the best theater to start this with in terms of the infrastructure they have to launch the show in the most significant way possible.”
And this Vermont veteran theater pro is prepared.
“It feels like all I've learned over 15 or 16 years at Northern Stage has led me to this point where I do know how to negotiate with a licensing house or another theater or a producer — I've stood in their shoes.”