"Bridge" a bold Broadway bow for Scarlett Johansson

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Who would have thought that the plays of Arthur Miller would provide a safe haven for young Hollywood actresses making their first forays onto a Broadway stage?

Last season it was Katie Holmes, receiving generally kind notices for her supporting turn in “All My Sons.” The latest example is Scarlett Johansson, as a young niece who inspires the semi-incestuous passions of her longshoreman uncle with tragic results in “A View from the Bridge.”

It turns out to have been a smart move: Making her Great White Way debut, Johansson acquits herself admirably in the role (which, by the way, the late Brittany Murphy played during the previous Broadway revival). But she’s got a real insurance policy in the form of co-star Liev Schreiber, delivering a volcanic performance as the doomed Eddie Carbone, upon whom the play truly hinges. The play is running through April 4 at the Cort Theater.

Miller’s 1955 work, with its overdone Greek-tragedy overtones, never has managed to be fully convincing. But it remains a gripping theatrical experience despite its flaws, and director Gregory Mosher’s straightforward, beautifully acted production does it reasonable justice.

The ominous tone is established immediately by the sight of John Lee Beatty’s imposing set depicting the looming, rundown buildings of a Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood. The proceedings are narrated in portentous fashion by Alfieri (Michael Cristofer), the lawyer who serves as a sort of de facto Greek chorus who lets us know immediately that things will not turn out well.

The plot centers on Eddie’s extreme protectiveness toward 17-year-old Catherine (Johansson), the daughter of his wife Beatrice’s (Jessica Hecht) late sister who they have raised since childhood. When the family decides to temporarily shelter Marco (Corey Stoll) and Rodolpho (Morgan Spector) -- Beatrice’s relatives from Italy who have arrived as illegal immigrants to seek work -- the burgeoning relationship between Catherine and the rakishly charming Rodolpho sends Eddie over the edge. At first his jealousy manifests itself in small ways: taunting his young rival into a violent boxing lesson and making fun of his propensity for bursting into song. But when the young lovers’ relationship turns serious, he resorts to a shocking act of betrayal that has fateful results.

Schreiber, who in recent years has established himself as perhaps the theater’s leading dramatic actor, is simply riveting as Eddie. Early on, he invests the role with subtle shades of humor that help leaven the melodramatic proceedings. But as Eddie becomes more consumed by his demons, Schreiber gradually ratchets up the intensity with shattering results.

Hecht, as the sexually neglected wife who can’t bear to admit the truth of what’s happening, is equally powerful in a role not too far removed, at least in milieu, from her superb recent turn in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Stoll and Spector are moving as the new arrivals who set the tragic events in motion, with the latter charmingly conveying Rodolpho’s innocent exuberance.

Johansson, sporting a convincing Brooklyn accent, is touching as the young girl blossoming into womanhood. Although like most stage tyros she needs to do more work in terms of projection and stage presence, she more than holds her own opposite her dynamic co-star, which is saying something indeed.