Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” continues to stir audiences 60 years after it was written – this time as a continuation of Director Ivo van Hove’s acclaimed revival, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through October 16th. The play once again serves as a reminder that good and evil are words not sufficient enough to describe individuals and their honest-to-self intentions, as flawed as those may be.
The setting – 1950’s America, particularly in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, can be seen as an exemplary snapshot of hard-working individuals, who worked indefatigably at their jobs, or on the docks, as longshoreman Eddie Carbone does in this story. He and many of the supporting characters around him are proud Italian-Americans. This includes Eddie’s wife Beatrice, in addition to her orphaned niece Catherine, who lives with them; and, on the outskirts, but paradoxically presiding over the play, lawyer (and narrator) Alfieri.
Problems arise when two Italians, Marco and his brother Rodolpho, cousins of Beatrice, immigrate to the United States so they, in turn, can become proud Italian-Americans as well. However, Rodolpho’s forward passion for Catherine is seen by Eddie as a flagrant violation of the soon-to-be 18-year-old’s innocence, and this is all the more insulting for him to bear as he perceives it as an abuse of his charity in welcoming the brothers into his home, providing them work, and acclimating them to a new country. But, behind Eddie’s principled accusations, is a lust for his wife’s niece that boils over into familial disintegration – a tragic result when it should’ve instead been a family united.
The 2016 production, which is expected to be sold out for every show throughout its run, sustains its minimalistic, unconventional, and visually audacious staging. For example, the actors stay in the same outfits the entire time, standing and sitting barefoot inside a veritable box that invites its audience to be artful voyeurs and amoral witnesses of the private goings-on inside Eddie Carbone’s home.
Presentation in this regard is key; Jan Versweyveld’s scenic & lighting design is stripped of unnecessary frills, focusing all attention on the actors and the integration of story-telling threads, functioning to maximize the collectivism of a scene or its dramatic individualism as when Eddie or Catherine look out to the audience with only the pall of a shadow brushed across their faces. Similarly, the sound design of Tom Gibbons is never gratuitous as it underscores the most palpitating elements of tension, as in with a ratcheting drum smack; or, with operatic blaring booms that simmer reminiscent of the score in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” before soaring with the voice of a male tenor during the play’s climactic burst.
As the lead, Frederick Weller is spectacular as Eddie, portraying the blue-collar travails of his character with great skill, verbally and non-verbally. Weller brings an assured voice to his character and walks with a laboring, wide-hipped stance as proof of his fortitude. As the breadwinner of his household, Eddie is simple, but not simplistic, and all he asks for is loyalty in return for his dedication. Though the one person he wants all to himself is rightly unattainable because she is coveted by an impure motivation.
Catherine, who is more or less Eddie’s de facto daughter, demonstrates her affection toward Eddie by jumping into his arms and wrapping her legs around him, as she ostensibly did during her childhood. But, affectionate actions that were once innocent are perhaps now inappropriate because a boundary that should be adhered to is crossed, confusing Eddie enough that fatherly love becomes romantic love.
Catherine Combs, who plays the character by the same first name, delivers a complex performance as a girl right on the cusp of womanhood, who wants to forge her own independence, personally and professionally. Combs’ character mannerisms reveal a willingness to please Eddie, as a daughter would, even when Rodolpho enters the picture and threatens to take her hand in marriage. Furthermore, Combs is sure to infuse her character with just enough ambivalence about going through with her relationship with Rodolpho because it distresses her adopted father so much. That being said, one of the most memorable scenes occurs when Catherine’s rage replaces any notion of being considerate toward Eddie; as such, Combs skillfully puts herself inside her character’s hauntingly frustrated state of mind, who hysterically pounds on Eddie’s shoulders and back.
Of course, Eddie’s deep-seated reservations about Rodolpho are partly plausible (e.g., that Rodolpho’s love is contrived and for the hidden purpose of citizenship through marriage), but mostly nonsense, as he focuses on Rodolpho’s apparently un-masculine characteristics, such as his affinity for singing and dancing.
The truth, certainly, is that Rodolpho is not a blond “punk,” but someone who brims with fantastic charisma and charm, which dare to swoon Catherine. Rodolpho is brought to vivid life by Dave Register, who plays the character with well-meaning intentions and impeccable comic timing. His line, for instance, about having “a nice face but no money” provokes some of the most laughter in the production. Rodolpho isn’t meant to be a serious man, but one who is carefree, unperturbed by most things, and very optimistic in the way he approaches life – all of which Register gets across extremely well. This positively polarizes everyone, including Eddie’s friend Louis, who is played with an infectious likability by Howard W. Overshown.
On the other hand, Rodolpho’s brother Marco is in the United States to make a better life for his wife and children back home. Marco’s broodingly laconic nature, which is initially used effortlessly for awkward laughs, sparked by only one-word answers from him, turns on a pivot when we realize the stakes of what being in the United States means to him. Ironically, it is the contention between Eddie and Rodolpho that leaves Marco as the odd man out once Eddie reports the two for being illegally in the country. Yet, Marco has the most honorable reason for being on U.S. soil, but becomes powerless by events outside of his control, leaving him with the most to lose.
Alex Esola, who portrays Marco, is wonderfully talented in the way he conveys his character’s earnestness via an absence of both physical motion and spoken dialogue. In essence, Esola embraces the poignancy of silence to highlight Marco’s inner strength, so that when Marco finally does speak passionately about the law’s inability to represent him and his situation, we are left speechless by his profound insight.
Nonetheless, the sanest characters are Eddie’s wife Beatrice and Alfieri, who is dually the lawyer and narrator. Beatrice is played with a quiet intensity by Andrus Nichols, who brings a strong poise and resoluteness to her character. As Nichols’ on-point acting suggests, Beatrice is a woman who will do what she believes to be the right course of action – whether it’s to support her cousins, encourage Catherine, or even admirably stand by her husband through everything, but also make it clear to him that he cannot have her niece.
Alfieri is the connective tissue of the play, assisting in scene transitions, and reflecting our reactions back to us like a mirror would. Thomas Jay Ryan, who portrays Alfieri with a measured dose of decency, gives his role a healthy inquisitiveness and an unusual straight-forwardness in speech, at least for a person of the law. Moreover, Ryan imbues Alfieri with a sense of caution, restraint, and willingness to understand, but he, as a moral bystander, is confused, even surprised, by his own perception of Eddie, whom he cannot completely condemn. Ultimately, Alfieri’s inner conflict about how to judge Eddie is rooted in accuracy about the human condition, which is significantly more complicated than any form of law can fully encapsulate.
Unequivocally, “A View from the Bridge” deserves the highest accolades for its exceptionally ground-breaking presentation and delivery that are never once derivative. The play, throughout its two-hour runtime, continually challenges the senses and, once concluded, compels lively discussion among those who have seen it.
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