These days, a lot of theatre companies are advertising that their shows are “timely,” and sometimes that’s true, but never so true as it is of Arthur Miller’s often-underrated play, A View From the Bridge. It began as a one-act with A Memory of Two Mondays as the other half of the bill, but it didn’t work. A few years later, Peter Brook mounted it in a rewritten, expanded, less esoteric version in London where it found success. It has since been overshadowed by the better known Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, but what those plays try to accomplish, “View” actually does. It IS a “tragedy of a common man” (the title of an essay on his own “Salesman” by Miller) and it’s also a condemnation of false witness, ala the Salem allegory in “Crucible”
Eddie Carbone (Isaiah DeLorenzo) is a longshoreman in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in 1955. He doesn’t have a regular job; rather, he goes to a cattle call every day, and most times, he gets work. His family consists of his loyal but dissatisfied wife, Beatrice (Erin Struckhoff), and Beatrice’s niece, Catherine (Emily Leidenfrost), who the couple has brought up from infancy after the death of her mother, Bea’s sister. It becomes clear fairly quickly that Eddie’s interest in “Katie” is more than just paternal, and that Bea is aware of it. Catherine is only 17, however, and she is naïve even for her age.
After a prologue by the lawyer, Alfieri (Sam Hack), which talks about what is coming in universal terms, the play opens with the family having dinner and talking about a couple of Bea’s cousins who will be illegally sneaking into the country to find the work they cannot obtain in economically squeezed Italy. Brothers Marco (Joe Ruskey) and Rodolpho (Dan Heise) will secretly stay with the Carbones to earn money to send back to Marco’s wife and children. Rodolpho is on his own, so he can keep what he earns. These immigrants are called “submarines,” and hiding them is apparently common practice in the neighborhood. The Immigration Authorities know about it, but they have to be able to prove that it’s really happening, or there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
The brothers are very different in temperament. Marco is the strong, silent type, but quick to anger. Rodolpho is younger and sweeter. He likes to laugh and sing. He is very blonde in constrast to Marco’s dark, more conventionally Italian look. He jokes that the Vikings invaded Italy back in the day, and his light hair shows their mark on the culture. He likes to sing, cook and sew, all traits that raise alarms for Eddie, but nothing upsets him nearly as much as the obvious and almost instant shine Catherine and Rodolpho take to each other. He is also embarrassed by how his co-workers on the docks make fun of Rodolpho and question his masculinity. Eddie goes off to Alfieri to find out what recourse he has, but he is dissatisfied when the lawyer tells him there is nothing he can do.
And so we are set up for inevitable tragedy, but it is still shocking when it comes. Joe Hanrahan has staged this production well. As usual, Alfieri frames the action and acts as both participant and narrator. Constant menace is indicated by the Immigration Authorities periodically circling the set, reminding us that they are always watching. A neighborhood feel is provided by the appearance of friends and neighbors from time to time, just passing by. Eddie does not exist in a vacuum, as none of us does. Each person’s actions create a ripple which, if destructive, will eventually result in a holocaust. Miller’s play is, indeed, truly timeless in its depiction of illegal immigration through the prism of this one family’s experiences and of a forbidden love as old as the story of Oedipus Rex.
A View from the Bridge runs through March 5, 2017 at Clayton Community Theatre located in the Washington University South Campus Theater, 6501 Clayton Rd. For information, you may contact www.placeseveryone.org or leave a message at 314-721-9228.