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A CurtainUp Review
A View From the Bridge
By Elyse Sommer
Meet Eddie Carbone (Anthony LaPaglia), his wife Bea (Allison Janney) and their seventeen-year-old niece Catherine (Brittany Murphy). This is a typical working class family of the Depression era. Their roles are clearly defined by their milieu and times, with the man always the ruler of his little realm. Yet within a few minutes of entering into their very ordinary world, you realize that what you see and hear masks an emotional land mine.
Welcome to Arthur Miller's Greek Tragedy, American style -- the forty-two-year old A View From the Bridge , currently being given a wonderfully full-bodied revival at the Roundabout's Stage Right.
In an essay entitled "Tragedy and the Common Man" Mr. Miller posited that it was possible to cast a modern man in the mode of a classic Greek tragedy. While the essay was published close on the heels of Death Of a Salesman, also a classic Everyman tragedy, it's A View From the Bridge that most closely emulates the traditional Greek model. The setting is the predominantly Sicilian-American occupied section of Brooklyn known as Red Hook. That community is every bit as bound by codes of justice and vengeance as those prevailing in Sophocles' Thebes. Eddie Carbone knows the rules that make treachery the worst of all crimes, but his incestuous passion for his niece drive him to betray the illegal immigrant kinsmen (Gabriel Olds-Rudolpho and Adam Trese-Marco) whose entry into the Carbone household turns out to be a ticking bomb. The immigration authorities, are fate's intractable Furies. A narrator-lawyer named Alfieri (Stephen Spinella ) functions as a Greek Chorus. More educated and yet part of the community, he tries to forestall the inevitably tragic ending even though he knows he is powerless to stop it.
Miller, not content with a tragedy enveloping the Carbones and their kinsmen, extends the crime by planting two additional "submarines" (a once common term for illegal immigrants) so that the revenge Eddie sets in motion against one person rains a whole avalanche of destruction. Like many a classic tragic figure (including Shakespeare's Hamlet), Eddie's effort to get rid of the one man he perceives as his enemy, cannot control fate's ripple effect on Marco, Marco's family and the hapless additional underground boarders -- and, as importantly, his own standing in the tight-knit community.
If all this sounds like a too overwrought melodrama, it is. Its foreshadowings include a classic first act weapon -- a knife used to peel an apple -- that any seasoned theater goer will expect to see again before the destined end. And yet, it remains a gripping theatrical experience that holds up surprisingly well in its current revival at the Roundabout.
For starters, there's director Michael Mayer's strikingly staged production. The eight main players are supported by a large ensemble (23 actors) that makes the stage, and at times the orchestra aisles, teem with the hustle and bustle of life in "the shadow of the Bridge that faces New York." To evoke the play's time and place, David Gallo has left behind his puppet and paper cutout sensibility, (i.e. Bunny Bunny and Jackie ), to create a stark Hopper-like set, with a backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge, beautifully lit by Kenneth Posner. Michael Krass's costume designs add to the authenticity of the production.
There is also the pleasure of watching some truly exhilarating acting at work. Mr. Miller who has despaired publicly about the problems inherent in casting good actors with a genuine commitment to the stage should take heart from the splendid interpretation given to the key roles.
Stephen Spinella who gets better in each role he undertakes, is convincing even though he's a bit young for the tough cigar smoking lawyer-narrator who looks into the "dark tunnels" of Eddie's eyes and wishes he could ring an alarm to stop his downfall.
Anthony LaPaglia's Eddie is tender, self-defensive and self-evasive. As his young niece breaks free of his hold on her he becomes a raging bull. Instead of facing his own jealousy he increasingly sees and seeks loathsome traits in Rudolpho who has captured the love he can never have. Like Spinella he's somewhat too young. In his case his youthful and virile good looks detract from the dual battle raging within him, the attraction to Catherine coupled with the rising fear of an older man faced with diminishing virility. While Eddie's deteriorating sexual relationship with his wife is no doubt largely caused by his unstated incestuous yearning for his niece, the older man's fear about his ebbing virility is a fact. La Paglia is nevertheless gripping, especially when he converts his verbal anger at Rudolpho to physical conflict.
Allison Janney, who was last seen as the glib, sophisticated ex-wife in last season's Present Laughter (see link to review below) is utterly convincing as the plain-spoken Bea. Her voice is sheer Brooklyn, her heart totally exposed as she struggles to save her marriage.
Above all these fine actors have captured not only Miller's rich dialogue, but all the nuances in the pauses between the spoken words. To cite just a few examples: Eddie's fingers moving ever so slightly underneath Catherine's sweater in one of the first scenes. . .Bea's eyes as she watches her husband and niece and in the big climactic arrest scene.
Happily, excellence extends right through the ranks of the supporting players. Brittany Murphy, while not quite on a par with the above-mentioned actors, nevertheless plays Catherine with an endearing air of innocence that makes you understand her need to hold onto Eddie's love even as she needs to break free of it. Gabriel Olds is an equally endearing Rudolpho and Adam Trese is terrific as the strong-as-an-ox Marco. He is particularly good in the tension-filled finale of Act 1, when he uses his strength to lift a heavy chair and thereby establishes himself as his brother Rudolpho's protector.
We come away from this play feeling great sympathy for all the characters, a sympathy best summed up in Alfieri's final comment: "Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better. But the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was and his death useless, I tremble for, I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory--not purely good, but himself, purely, for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients."
Seeing this middle-aged play also brings to mind Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive (see link to review below) which also deals with forbidden passion growing out of a genuinely caring relationship between an uncle and niece . As Miller has been widely referred to as Ibsen's heir, Ms. Vogel is one of our newer talents carrying on Miller's tradition of writing plays that dare to be serious and disturbing.
Links Pertaining to this Review
How I Learned to Drive
Overview on Arthur Miller's Career by J. Sommer (Includes an Arthur Miller Reading List)