by Michele Payne
Iowa City – Riverside Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is stark, compelling and hot. The play tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a dockworker in Brooklyn, who, like many tragic heroes before him, values honor above everything but cannot for the life of him manage to be an honorable man. Director Sean Christopher Lewis says in a Director’s Staging Note on the theatre’s website, “I thought about Greek tragedies (the way Arthur Miller, himself, described this play) and the way the tragedy of a single man never stopped at the man.”
The set by Shawn Ketchum Johnson guarantees we never forget the others drawn into Eddie’s tragedy because it gives them no place to hide. The stage is bare and un-curtained to its borders, street and hallway demarcated only by low horizontal pipes, the living space indicated only by a card table and chairs, a side table, a record player. Packing crates and cardboard boxes ring the space, and characters – who in another production would be well off-stage, out of sight and out of mind – those characters are hanging out there, sitting and leaning against the crates and the walls, watching what’s going on center stage or looking away. As we watch Eddie and Beatrice argue center stage about Catherine and Rodolpho stepping out to the movies, off in a dim corner Rodolpho is helping Catherine into her coat, film over, getting ready to start home.
Home, for Eddie Carbone, his wife, and the niece they’ve raised as their own, is a two-bedroom flat in Red Hook in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. As the play opens, they anticipate the arrival of two cousins coming illegally from Italy to sleep on their floor and work on the docks. Beatrice is worried, but Eddie reassures her: “It’s an honor, B., I mean it,” he says. “I was just thinkin’ before, comin’ home, suppose my father didn’t come to this country, and I was starvin’ like them over there…and I had people here in America could keep me a couple of months? The man would be honored to lend me a place to sleep.”
And he means it. That’s what makes what happens next so hard to watch. Played with soul and intelligence by Patrick DuLaney, Eddie really wants to be that good person.
But he’s feeling impure thoughts about his niece Catherine (Katherine Slaven) in her short skirts and high heels and old enough now get herself a stenographer’s job.
And he’s always angry now at Beatrice (Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers) who seems to set herself against him all the time.
And he’s sure the younger cousin Rodolpho (Aaron Weiner) “ain’t right” and wants to marry Catherine only so he never has to go back to Italy.
And Marco (Kehry Lane) is his match in weight and strength and family loyalty, and maybe there isn’t room for them both.
And when he wants to fix all of this, the lawyer Alieri, himself an Italian who should know better, tells him there is no law that can fix any of it, except the laws that Immigration can enforce.
Alieri (Tim Budd in a thoughtful, rueful performance as the storyteller) offers us perspective but never lets us hope. We know this ending can’t be happy. The show is brilliantly cast. It’s impossible to turn away from DuLaney’s Eddie, and Slaven’s Catherine has a fresh sassiness and genuine innocence that makes it easy for us to see how much growing up can cost us.
Mooers, Weiner and Lane all give strong performances, and I felt something I like to feel: that each of them was holding back something about their character that they weren’t willing to share. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but to me it is. A play only shows us a moment in the lives of the characters. When an actor convinces me there’s more to know, that makes the performance richer.
And having Barrington Vaxter and Rip Russell in supporting roles has to be like getting Lady GaGa and Beyonce to sing back up for you.
The play is staged minimally, there are no dishes or other props, there is no door. But here’s how carefully this production is crafted: when Eddie opens the door into the dark apartment, light shines onto the floor from the hallway just the way it should. And when he closes the door, that light slides away.
A View from the Bridge continues this weekend and next at Riverside Theatre. You should go see it.