Stage setting

  • Arthur Miller gives a very detailed description of how the stage should look. The whole set should be the street and house front of a tenement building. He adds that the front is skeletal entirely. This means that the building is suggested rather than defined. The audience has a hint that the action will take place in the city, in a poor area. The directions continue, the main acting area is the living room-dining room of Eddie’s apartment. It is a worker’s flat, clean, sparse, homely. There is a rocker down front; a round dining table at centre, with chairs; and a portable phonograph. From these descriptions the audience can infer that whoever lives here is poor but houseproud; someone who wants to make a cosy home. In this way, the audience has already been able to make some judgements even before the acting begins. The directions go on to say that at back are a bedroom door and an opening to the kitchen; none of these interiors are seen. Again, although the audience do not see into the rooms, there is obviously a use for a kitchen and a bedroom in the story.
  • The stage has to offer another setting in A View from the Bridge, since the action does shift between locations. Miller’s directions note: at the right, forestage, a desk. This is Mr Alfieri’s law office. Once more, the audience will soon realise that the law is an important part of this play, and it has therefore been allocated its own setting.
  • Finally, the directions inform us that there is also a telephone booth. This is not used until the last scenes, so it may be covered or left in view. Miller is leaving this decision to the director – but it is worth thinking of the difference it would make to the audience if the director decided not to show the booth until it is needed.
  • The exterior is then described: a stairway leads up to the apartment, and then farther up to the next storey which is not seen. It is clear that the apartment is neither on the ground floor nor on the top. The inhabitants are surrounded by other people and are therefore part of a neighbourhood community. This is important to our understanding of the characters.
  • Miller continues: Ramps, representing the street, run upstage and off to right and left. This also sets the inhabitants in the wider community of a city, emphasising the message that the story which is about to be told is relevant to all people.
  • The final stage direction which concerns setting is to do with sound. It is extremely effective in several ways: [A distant foghorn blows.] A foghorn tells us that the action takes place near to the sea, and in fact this is Red Hook, the dock area of Brooklyn, New York. However, a foghorn is also a warning sound, letting ships know that they are heading for danger. Therefore the stage direction has a physical and a metaphorical significance.
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Interestingly, in a recent production of the play in London (directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Mark Strong), no scenery or props were used at all. The stage was completely empty and the acting and dialogue had to fulfil the role played by settings.