And this view, regardless of perspective, intends to invite the viewer into a daunting realm of judgmental voyeurism . . .

Set designer David Gallo’s drawing for the 1998 revival of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge was used to make adaptations to the theatrical set when the production transferred from the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Off-Broadway performance space to the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd Street in New York City for its five-month Broadway run. As seen in the annotation at the lower left, the drawing is depicted at a ½ inch=1 foot scale as a guide for craftsmen assembling the drop to be used on stage.

Bridge tells the story of Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American longshoreman whose incestuous and ultimately incendiary crush on his niece leads to family shame and tragedy in the judgmental eyes of their 1950s-era community. The story implodes in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the Queen Mary liner and cranes serve as a sort of a skyline. As curator Donald Albrecht described when the drawing was included in Cooper Hewitt’s 2000 triennial exhibition, Design Culture Now: “To suggest the oppressive working-class environment in which Miller’s characters struggle, Gallo surrounded the actors with a semicircular backdrop evocative of the Brooklyn waterfront. He designed the stark, black-and-white drop by collaging a photographic image of the Queen Mary with repeated silhouettes of cranes.”[1] The resulting textural atmosphere—expressionistic, but with representational clarity—engulfed the space in murky air and motives.

Gallo’s designs often utilize the power of shape to focus and structure the theatrical space. Here, the curve of the stage and perspective of the cranes converge on the anchoring force of the Queen Mary. This graphic focus reinforced the layout of the stage space itself, which channeled primary action to the center of the stage, an angsty agora alluding to the staging of tragedies in ancient Greece. As Ben Brantley noted in his New York Times review of the Off-Broadway production, “The correlation with classical tragedy is directly evoked by David Gallo’s amphitheater-inspired set, with curved tiers of steps overlooking the circle where the principal action takes place.”[2]

Production photo of A View From the Bridge with a “community” of extras surrounding the principal characters, 1997. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company.

Gallo’s design was, from this drawing, transposed onto a backdrop made of scrim, a fabric with properties that allow designers to play with transparency and opacity, creating a layered effect of depth and lighting. The silhouette design on the scrim allowed Gallo to harness an emotional dimension of light, working with lighting designer Kenneth Posner to conjure a “somber chiaroscuro”[3] that reflected shifting moods in the repressed characters of the narrative, “shadowy lighting [that] seem[ed] to locate the emotions the characters often don’t dare express.”[4] Through shape and lighting, Gallo offered the audience a “view” that constructs a classical ethos with a twentieth-century edge.

Photo of A View From the Bridge cast and crew, 1997. Courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company.

Photo of A View From the Bridge cast and crew, 1997. Courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company. Note the lower part of Gallo’s design, visible behind the cast and crew.

Matthew J. Kennedy is one of a precocious few who, at eight years old, could claim his favorite department at the Art Institute of Chicago to be European Decorative Arts. He received his master’s degree from the Parsons/Cooper Hewitt graduate program, pursuing research focused on the intersection of design, popular culture, and his recreational passion of theater. He currently works in Cross-Platform Publishing at Cooper Hewitt.

[1] Donald Albrecht, Design Culture Now: National Design Triennial (New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 2000), 176–77.

[2] Ben Brantley, “THEATER REVIEW; Incestuous Longings On the Waterfront,” New York Times, December 15, 1997,

[3] Albrecht, Design Culture Now, 176–77.

[4] Brantley, “THEATER REVIEW; Incestuous Longings On the Waterfront.”

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