By nature, theater holds a mirror up to society, and dramas being staged by two of the Corridor’s major players are peering into the price of fear, reflecting tragedy and hope.
One is an American classic, premiering in 1955, and other opened on Broadway in 2010.
Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” shines a dark and brooding spotlight on immigration and how growing fears shatter a tenuous bridge between two families from opposite sides of the ocean. The drama unfolds from Friday (1/20) through Feb. 12 at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City.
The contemporary “Next Fall,” onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids through Jan. 28, examines conflicting views on faith, love and loss crashing down on a male couple, their family and friends.
The directors say their productions complement each other in sparking timely dialogues during today’s divisive political climate.
“It just shows that now more than ever, we really need theater to help us escape and feel connected,” said Angie Toomsen, director of “Next Fall.” “But what we really need theater to do is to expose our humanity in its most uncomfortable way so that we can shed light on it and become more conscious of who we are.”
Sean Christopher Lewis, artistic director at Riverside Theatre, is blurring the lines between eras to give “A View from the Bridge” a more timeless, timely feel to help connect audiences with themes from that past still resonating in the present.
“The theme is what really drew me,” he said. “I knew it was going to open on Inauguration Day, but when I selected it, I had no idea who our president was going to be. So some of the issues became even more pressing. It primarily really heavily looks at the human side of immigration — not the political side of it, but what are the human complications involved with it.”
Set in Brooklyn, dock worker Eddie Carbone willingly shelters his wife’s cousins from Italy who are working to send money home during a famine. When one of those young men falls in love with his niece, however, Eddie regrets his benevolence.
“He thinks, ‘I’ve invited this guy into my house and I feel like he’s taken something from me.’ That gets at the fears around immigration more than a lot of larger talking points,” Lewis said.
Rather than having the action unfold in a living room, it will play out among shipping units that contain the pieces needed to convey the action. The cast will be stage onstage throughout, like a Greek chorus, watching everything take place.
“I told the actors it’s not going to be done in a way you’re expecting. There’s a higher possibility for either failure or transcendence,” Lewis said. “In rehearsals, we’re moving a lot closer to this being something special.”
That’s the same kind of experience unfolding at Theatre Cedar Rapids, where a life-or-death crisis forces flawed characters work out their preconceived notions and prejudices toward homosexuality, racism and religion. Adam fears the kind of judgment he’s always felt from Christians, yet he loves Luke, a man whose faith runs so deep that he prays for forgiveness after sex and has never told his parents about his homosexuality.
Matthew James, 38, of Iowa City, who plays Adam, said the script grabbed him emotionally “in a very profound way.” He was nervous over how it would be received, however, since “everyone’s in the crossfire,” but has been buoyed by audience reactions.
John Miersen, 23, of Cedar Rapids, who plays Luke, hopes viewers take away something very personal from the show.
“Everyone can watch the same show but they don’t see the same show,” he said. “We want people to think about what they saw and maybe learn from it. ... One thing I always say is that I want people to leave the theater thinking differently than how they did when they came in.”
And maybe look differently at their fears.
“There’s a lot of fear from all angles,” Toomsen said, noting the play strives “to locate that essential core place that’s underneath any belief system, any frame of mind.”
“We’re all human beings, all afraid and all want to be loved,” she said. “I don’t think about it as a gay play. It’s a relationship play, another human play.”
WHAT: “A View from the Bridge”
WHERE: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City,
WHEN: Friday (1/20) to Feb. 12; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $12 to $30, Riverside Box Office, (319) 338-7672 or Riversidetheatre.org
WHAT: “Next Fall”
WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: To Jan. 28; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $21 to $30, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org