Posted by: strugglesome | April 18, 2011

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever: Temple Theater’s A View from the Bridge

Before Brooklyn was a hipster haven chalk full of cozy eateries and young parents escorting their children to raiki class in environmentally friendly strollers it was, well, Brooklyn, an immigrant nation staring directly at the golden land of Manhattan, so close but so far away. It’s “the gullet of New York swallowing the sewage of the world” as Arthur Miller titled it in A View From The Bridge, his noveau Greek tragedy set in the household of an Italian American family living in Brooklyn in the 1950’s. Gullet it may be, but it’s home to Eddie Carbone and his small family, his loving wife, Beatrice, and his precocious nice, Catherine, and a happy home , at least until Beatrice’s nephews arrive, smuggled in from Italy and living as “submarines”, or as we know them now, illegal aliens. The introduction of Marco and Rodolpho into the Carbone household ruptures not only the fragile bonds of the Carbone family but strikes at the very heart of Eddie’s identity, devastating the family and rocking the foundations of our concept of truth and honor, or at least, it ought to do. And in Temple Theater’s excellently balanced strongly played production of A View From The Bridge we are left both pained and pleased by this play, and revitalized by this so familiar story, which is no easy task.

Directed by Temple MFA candidate Nathan Gabriel and staged in Temple’s intimate black box the Randell Theater this excellently designed production showcases the talents of actors Rob Kahn (Eddie Carbone) and Rachel Kitson (Catherine) in an elegantly crafted well paced production. A mistake that is often made with Miller’s work is presenting it entirely realistically, when Miller was adamant that he had written dream plays, works that belong both in the realistic and the surreal realm, and Gabriel has created a production that lives in reality and fantasy simultaneously. A simple but strong set design by Ian Guzzone frames the piece with Brooklyn Bridge style structures, gently reminding the audience of the transitory nature of the story, the liminal space that is Brookyln, both New York and not New York, both the United States, for the legal citizens, and a dangerous world for the illegal immigrants. Madeleine Steineck’s excellent lighting design create silhouettes and shapes in the small space that amplify the stage and give the piece an appropriately epic air. While David O’Connor’s sound design is just okay,  Sarah Moore’s lovely costumes create a kind of 50’s style eye candy for the audience,  decking Rodolpho (Ryan Streit) out in silk shirts and wool trousers and giving Kitson circle skirts and fitted frocks in which to swan about the stage. Given how elegantly spare the set design is, Moore’s costumes do double duty flattering the cast and dating the piece, which, with its colloquialisms and accents, could only exist in the time in which it was written. No one worries about European immigrants nowadays, it’s all about Mexican immigration, Italians can do whatever they choose. But this piece serves as evidence that no matter what the other is, it exists, and it is feared, for all it threatens every precious thing we hold dear.

Miller’s play follows the Carbone family as the accept their immigrant cousins (Carl Granieri as Marco and Ryan Streit as Rodolpho)  into their mist, all of this narrated by aging lawyer Alfieri (Gregg Almquist)  in a more politically charged Our Town style framing. While Eddie was initially accepting of his Italian cousins, one look at the jazz standard singing silk shirt wearing Rodolpho and Eddie has made up his mind quicker then the bible belt, Rodolpho “isn’t right”. And given that Catherine, who Eddie has raised by the sweat of his longshoreman labors since she was a child, is insanely enamored of this Italian Stallion, Eddie can’t possibly comprehend her attraction. Wrapped up in Eddie’s complicated emotional outbursts are his repressed feelings for Catherine, which are as obvious as they are sublimated, and as deeply as  his wife Beatrice (Melanie Julian) protests, nothing can stop Eddie’s fatal attraction from asserting itself in the most horrible ways, bringing doom and dishonor to the family.

In theory Eddie is a sympathetic if deeply flawed character, determined to preserve his sense of self and truth in the face of the world and, frankly, reality. In practice, or at least, in this production, Kahn’s Eddie is a raging bull of a man, volatile, powerful and totally unsympathetic, well played but despicable, clearly repressing his feelings for his young niece and obviously jealous of his fair Italian nephew. Julian’s Beatrice walks the fine line between pathetic doormat and calmly aware housewife, shinning in her scenes with Kitson’s Catherine but flailing flatly in her scenes with Kahn. But to be fair, the character of Beatrice is a difficult one, stuck in the position of loving a Humbert Humbert  and trying to gently eliminate the Lolita in the room without hurting anyone in the process. Kitson is excellent as Catherine, frustrating in her youthful naiveté, powerful in her anger, wide-eyed and wise in her final scenes, grabbing desperately at the future as her past slips away from her like quicksand. She is matched with a well performed and sweetly flamboyant Streit as her gentleman lover, as well as a deeply intense Granieri as the family oriented Marco. The rest of the cast are, frankly, excellent sports, filling in as ensemble while the bulk of the piece is performed by the five principles, and while they get their sparse lines in, it’s really a drawing-room drama set in a world without drawing rooms.

Ultimately, spoiler alert, Eddie, who is so appalled by Catherine’s attraction to this “unnatural” young man that  he will move heaven and earth to see them separated, ends up in a knife fight with Marco (it’s very West Side Story but without all the awesome Jerome Kern choreography) and then, of course, dying in Beatrice’s arms. And it is, honestly, appallingly satisfying to see that character die. I don’t know if it’s the character or the actor or the play itself, but watching a character who has spent the last two and half hours lusting after his niece and falsely accusing his nephew of homosexuality and THEN calling immigration on his own family die, well, the amount of fantasy fulfillment of that cannot be overstated. And while Almquist’s excellent if underused Alfieri might be sympathetic to Eddie’s “Pure Truth” the rest of us can’t help but heave a sigh of relief at Eddie’s eventual death, after all, poetry is all well and good, but there is only so much self indulgence one can stand before really needing to slap someone on the face. Or throw them off a bridge. Whatever works for you.

Tickets for Temple Theater’s A View From The Bridge can be found here. The show runs from now until April 23rd.

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