February 27-March 5, 2003
A View From The Bridge
No American playwright has more ostentatiously sought greatness than Arthur Miller. In Death of a Salesman, he went after the lie of the American dream. In All My Sons, his target is success built on the horrors of war. Nothing less than indicting entire political and social institutions will do.
To be fair, in Miller's best work -- Salesman, Sons, also The Crucible -- he creates a fundamentally human story that interacts with his epic ideas. Tragedy occurs through the collision of large-scale corruption with one individual's frailty. Miller makes us believe the results are inevitable. These plays more than aspire to greatness -- they achieve it. But even here, the writer's unfortunate penchant for melodrama (too much plotting, heavy-handed symbolism) sometimes undercuts his lofty intentions.
A View From the Bridge, first produced in 1955, offers Miller's familiar mix of the political and personal. The Carbone family represents the kind of local heroes he loves best. Hardworking Eddie, an Italian-American longshoreman living in Brooklyn, has a decent job and a loving wife, Beatrice. The Carbones have raised their 17-year-old niece, Catherine, since childhood. Now, just as Catherine is ripening into womanhood (a situation that is suspiciously fraught for Eddie), the generous family opens their doors to two of Beatrice's cousins from Sicily: Marco and raffish Rodolpho. This situation too is problematic. The cousins have entered the U.S. illegally and Rodolpho and Catherine soon fall in love.
The trouble with View is that the human story and the political one never mesh, and Miller the sanctimonious pedant keeps bumping into Miller the melodramatist. Pedantic Miller gives us a pompous narrator/Greek Chorus figure (Alfieri, the neighborhood lawyer) and seems intent on finding a political scapegoat in America's heartless anti-immigration policies. But we're not fooled -- the immigration business is really a red herring. View is about Eddie's misplaced carnality. Moreover, the play is littered with Miller-ian obviousness, including an overwrought finale that I won't reveal, but well, let's just say that the play isn't set in Red Hook for nothing.
Ultimately, melodrama wins out. View is a descendant of the blood-and-lust Italian verismo tradition. One forebear might be Giovanni Verga's play, Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry), better known to us through Mascagni's opera setting. Both View and Cavalleria are big, raw stories of passion and retribution. And both can set off firecrackers in the theater -- but only in a production that's willing to go for it, to commit to the size and hot bloodedness (and even the hokum) without apology.
Unfortunately, People's Light director David Bradley has approached View by reining it in. Perhaps the aim is to avoid ethnic stereotypes, but he goes so far in the opposite direction that the characters feel flat, and the place they live in (a handsome but flavorless set by James F. Pyne Jr.) lacks specificity and detail. More damagingly, there's not a sufficient sense of danger in the leisurely pacing and emotionally detached world Bradley creates. Under the circumstances, the actors make less of an impression than they ought, though Paul Meshejian is a tender, believable Eddie, and John Lumia makes an interesting Marco. Bradley also adds a wordless group of neighbors who stand by viewing the action (and whom we watch as they watch). Again, this serves only to dissipate the tension of what is fundamentally a family drama -- and by emphasizing the Greek Chorus, Bradley throws extra weight behind one of Miller's more specious dramaturgical ideas.
A View From the Bridge
Through April 5, People‚s Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern, 610-644-3500