HOLLYWOOD—There are currently two revivals worthy of revisiting, playing at the same time, at the Music Center: August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Taper, and Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” at the Ahmanson. “Ma Rainey,” first produced in NYC in 1984, depicts a day in a recording studio in 1927 Chicago, and “A View” takes place in the 1950s, about a dock worker in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

They have more in common than show dates and location at the Music Center: in both, the director is evident almost as another character on stage, and, though revivals, they both still shine a light on current social issues. My, how things haven’t changed in America through the years, let alone decades. Miller’s exploration of the moral dilemma regarding immigration and Wilson’s of racial tensions could have been written today, and no one would think twice about their origin.

In “A View From the Bridge,” the opening music sets the funereal tone appropriately. Hauntingly beautiful, it echoes cavernously, as if the setting were a cathedral, rather than an Italian dockworker’s shower stall. The steam, and the tension, rise accordingly. The stage, a bare rectangle, is underlit, aglow, with a “curtain” that opens and closes as if a steel quarantine, cutting out the oxygen from the room, setting all into solitary confinement.

One metal door from which the characters enter and exit is centered, leading off into the bleak darkness. There is an amphitheater-like feel, with audience members on either side of the stage, to add to the Greek tragedy set-up, with the lawyer, Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan) acting as the Greek chorus/narrator. With a low-key matter-of-fact resignation, he sets up the scenario, and interjects throughout, always lurking in the background shadows, always somewhat in control.

The costumes are non-descript, non-period, the set is stark and minimal, in direct opposition to Miller’s stage directions. With a modernistic tone of severity, the vision of the director, Ivo van Hove, is evident, and mostly effective. It is at times when the background music becomes overbearing, when one might question if his stamp is too apparent. The background scoring (Sound Design, Tom Gibbons) was meant, one would suppose, to add to the mounting tension, but in the sense of fingernails on a blackboard, it doesn’t always succeed at reaching the right type of tension. Some acting choices seem to come more directorially than organically, but the actors are all interesting to watch. Eddie (Frederick Weller) is a longshore worker, who works manual labor every day down at the docks. He and his wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols), adopted her sister’s daughter, Catherine (Catherine Combs), when she was orphaned early on. Catherine is now just hitting womanhood, and Eddie is feeling more for Catherine than he feels for his own wife. He can’t acknowledge it, nor does he stifle it. Beatrice tries to rekindle her relationship with Eddie, but hits the proverbial wall that seems to box them all in.

While Beatrice’s side of the family brought in the eventually destructive Catherine, Eddie then asks to house two distant immigrant cousins, smuggled in from Italy, so that they can work the docks and send money back to their struggling families in poverty-ridden Italy.

Catherine and Eddie’s physicality has not accommodated her blossoming womanhood at 18. He says, “You’re walkin’ wavy, Kate,” but more in the sense that she should stop the waving on the street, yet keep it in the house, for him alone. Eddie strokes her legs, treating her more like a puppy than like a maturing girl, but it gets more and more suggestive. And then the immigrants, Rodolpho (Dave Register) and Marco (Alex Esola), arrive. Catherine becomes smitten with Rodolpho, walking wavy out the door by his side, which doesn’t go over well with the jealously protective Eddie. Eddie tries to dissuade her by posing the doubt of Rodolpho’s intentions. Is he a homosexual, putting on the guise to win his citizenship through marriage?

Beatrice, though the more forgiving of the bunch, is depicted as the most severely dressed and coifed (Costumes by An D’Huys). Catherine’s underwear is always peeking out as if still a little girl on the schoolyard. Although the looseness of Eddie’s stance and his linen pants says otherwise, Eddie is wound tight as a drum, amplified by the accompanying soundtrack we hear throughout much of the action (Drumming, by Steve Reich). There is an undercurrent of excitement that develops in the tense pauses. At first everything seems a bit off. The immigrants don’t have accents, the Brooklyn family has only a hint of dialect, the immigrant brothers seem ethnically ambiguous, Catherine is too lithe and physical, Beatrice too cold, but then it all settles in and somehow becomes intriguing.

The play questions the morality of dealing with undocumented immigrants, and of allegiances, not unlike any conflicts we currently face. The headlines of cases like the debates over the passing of Kate’s Law, and sanctuary cities, still trouble us today, 61 years after the writing of this play. Of course, the sexual tensions of this play are no different than that of today. In Ivo’s “A View from the Bridge,” the “petty troubles of the poor,” of longshoremen and their wives, resonate in the austere setting, bringing a focus that make such troubles relevant and universal.

Van Hove brings his directorial concept of “A View From the Bridge” to LA after bringing the successful production to Broadway, via the Young Vic, winning a Tony Award last year. The direction makes as big a statement as the strong acting of this production. His directorial stamp is omnipresent and evident throughout, to good effect for the most part. Though no dialogue or emotion is missed, much of the staging is turned inward, or upstage, or to the center of the box. As a result, it would be interesting to see the show from different vantage points, particularly from the onstage seats. Opening night, the house left onstage audience virtually leapt to their standing ovation, while house right and orchestra viewers stood up a tad more slowly. It’s quite probable that “The View” from onstage house left is best for the more pivotal moments.

Phylicia Rashad’s directing of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was far more traditional and subtle, and yet, also quite effective. The cast seemed well-nurtured, and it was evident that Rashad established a comfort zone for the actors to brew and percolate in a musically harmonious setting. The through-line was music, even though, ironically, there is little actual music in this play. There’s more drama in waiting for Lillias White to let loose as the “Mother of the Blues,” Ma, than there is in the actual script. And we want to hear Lillias. She’s got the voice. But the play is more about the poetry of the characters, as they banter and riff off of each other, just like a quartet ensemble, stitching their notes together with expertise, then taking turns allowing each player their solo moment to improvise. Rashad seems to have encouraged all the actors to play each note of their characters with perfect musicality.

The set, designed by John Iacovelli, reflects the power triangle. The white music producers have their high perch up above, center, in the sound room, handling the controls; though everyone is on the middle tier at some point, with the microphones and piano center stage, it is clearly Ma Rainey’s terrain; down below, on the bottom rung, is most of the action of the corps musicians, again with the piano center stage. The dynamic tone is clear, as we all await the late arrival of Ma Rainey. What little power she has, she milks, and Lillias hits every note. She knows they need her for the music, and she knows the producers need her music to make their money.

Like “A View From the Bridge,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” shows no deterioration from age, but though tensions arise, unlike “A View,” there is little drama until the end. It is more about the exchanges and colorful language of the characters. Each character, and each actor in their portrayal, possesses their own distinct rhythm. Levee (Jason Dirden) puts on his dancing shoes, to step out in style with Keith David (Slow Drag), Damon Gupton (Cutler) and Glynn Turman (Toledo). All have an earthiness and sincerity to their efforts, as they share histories and philosophies, until Dirden’s Levee breaks the tempo. He’s tired of people stepping on his toes, and even music doesn’t always heal broken souls. The crescendo leaves them all silenced.

Again, like “A View,” “Ma Rainey” shows how then and now, we still face the same dilemmas. In today’s current climate, no one is immune to the built-up frustrations we face, whether racially motivated or otherwise, as we try to find our identities. As these frustrations can fester and bubble over at the wrong moment, Wilson shows how they can lead to a single rash decision or reaction that can ruin one’s life altogether. Wilson captured that in Levee, and in all the characters, in a way. Rounding out the ensemble are Matthew Henerson (Sturdyvant), Nija Okoro (Dussie Mae), Lamar Richardson (Sylvester), and Ed Swidey (Irvin). With all working together, this production is indeed a heartfelt ensemble presentation of the piece.

The Young Vic Production of
Arthur Miller’s

Scenic & Lighting Design Jan Versweyveld
Costume Design An D’Huys
Sound Design Tom Gibbons
Directed by Ivo Van Hove

Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Through October 16, 2016
Tues. thru Sat. 8pm, Sat. Matinee: 2pm; Sun. 1pm & 6:30pm
• No Monday performances. • Exceptions: No 8 p.m. performance on Thursday, September 22. Added 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, October 13. No 6:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, October 16.
Ticket Prices: $25 – $125 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available: www.CenterTheatreGroup.org; Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400; In person at box office at the Music Center
Group Sales: 213.972.7231
Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.

By August Wilson

Scenic Design: John Iacovelli
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design Elizabeth Harper
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreiber
Directed By: Phylicia Rashad

Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Through October 16, 2016

Tues. thru Sat. at 8pm; Sat. Matinee at 2pm; Sun. at 1pm & 6:30 pm
Exceptions: No 8pm performance on Thursday, September 22. Added 2pm performance on Thursday, October 13. No 6:30 pm performance on Sunday, October 16.
Ticket Prices: $25 – $125 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available: at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org; Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400; In person at box office at the Music Center
Group Sales: 213.972.7231
Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.