As close as possible to the elemental core

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

You need to go see Ivo Van Hove's production of The View from the Bridge at the Ahmanson Theatre but -- and this is a big but, you need to pick your seats carefully. With this production, in this theater, the difference of a couple rows will be the difference between being blown away and feeling sort of "meh."

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the production itself. This is the same production, with different actors, that played to rave reviews and sold out crowds in both London and on Broadway. It's the production that won two Tony awards just last season. So why do you need to pick the right seats?

Because it's the right play but it's in the wrong theater.

The genius of this production of Arthur Miller's classic is that it strips the play down to its elemental core. You can feel it in the gloriously simple set. Although the bulk of the play happens in a Longshoreman's apartment in Red Hook, this isn't a naturalistic set. There is no kitchen table or windows with a glowing Manhattan skyline in the unattainable distance. Instead the actors are playing barefoot on a set that's more of a minimalist sculpture. A glowing white floor is surrounded by a short glass wall that wraps around the stage's three sides. Above them, a sculptural curtain hides the source of the incredible lighting design that transforms the space from a warm, masculine orange glow at the opening to a tragically icy blue at the end. The set helps to strip away all the unnecessary detail and focus us on the actors as if we're gazing intently on a human fishbowl.

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Unlike most of the touring Broadway musicals that fill the Ahmanson this isn't a set about flashy spectacle. This is a set that speaks most loudly and epically through simplicity and omission. Like the whole production, it chooses only the essential. So when a single chair is held menacingly aloft it has operatic meaning because of its singularity, its specificity. The spectacle, for Ivo Van Hove's production, is grounded in the actor.

So when you go see A View from the Bridge you need to be close to these actors. It's not that you can't see or even hear them from the back of the theater - that's never an issue. It's just that the intensity of the performance is dissipated. It's like a campfire you need to be close to to enjoy its real magic.

The cavernous Ahmanson soaks up that energy. I was seated in Row G on opening night and that's about as far back as you'd want to be. This is one where you either need to splurge for the very front of the orchestra or, even better the $25 seats that have been set up on the sides of the set on the Ahmanson stage. Don't be misled by the discount. They're the best seats in the house.

So choose your seats wisely and you'll be transfixed by this production.

A View from the Bridge plays at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown through October 16.

For info on the show or to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater Newsletter, check out:

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 2 hours without an Intermission.

Photos: Jan Versweyveld