Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” has worn a distracting label since it was first produced in 1955. Coming during the McCarthy era, it has been saddled with the status of a message play, almost a parable for those days when friends ratted on friends to save themselves.
But the drama is most persuasive on its base level, a story of obsessive love that carves like a knife through a Brooklyn family. Director Penelope VanHorne understands this and presents a Vanguard Theatre Ensemble staging that is direct and powerful, even as the play’s flaws peek out.
“A View From the Bridge” is almost quaint in its structure, but the events are anything but. When we first meet Eddie Carbone (Joseph Anthony), he has the familiarity of a stock character, the hard-working stevedore who’ll do anything for those close to him. He wants to take care of his supportive wife, Beatrice (Jill Cary Martin), and help his teenage orphaned niece, Catherine (Sophie Arino), find a better life.
But there’s more to his dedication to Catherine. As Eddie puts it, an incestuous desire has “moved into his body like a stranger.” He gazes at Catherine in a way that makes the audience uncomfortable, just as it does Beatrice, but Catherine is unaware. When brothers Marco (Jorge Cordova) and Rodolpho (Brandon Ryan Puleio) arrive from Italy to live with the family while they find work on the docks, the tension coils.
Catherine is drawn to the handsome Rodolpho, and Eddie’s jealousy intensifies. He tries to humiliate the likable dandy, questioning his manhood and leading to a stunning moment when he kisses him in front of Catherine, trying to brand him as a homosexual. The scene must have rocked theatergoers in the mid-’50s, and it still carries a punch today. And it only leads to Eddie’s final degradation, when he anonymously reports the brothers for deportation.
It’s a desperate act, and not merely one of cunning self-preservation; Anthony shows how emotionally hamstrung Eddie has become. Taken in context, it’s clear Miller was pushing the limits when he wrote “A View From the Bridge.” That goes a long way toward forgiving its weaknesses.
Marco, the elder brother, suffers the most from superficiality. He’s little more than a gentle bull, all nave goodness and sturdy shoulders. Rodolpho is also shallow, Miller being satisfied to offer him as a man-child unprepared for all that’s conspiring to wreck his new life. Faced with limitations, Cordova and Puleio nonetheless make us feel for their characters.
The solid acting continues with Arino and Martin. Arino’s Catherine, already daunted by the prospect of womanhood, is ill-equipped to understand Eddie, and her vulnerability is heartbreaking. The same with Martin; her Beatrice seems to shrink as the drama evolves, a simple woman also ruined by her husband’s fall.