A View From the Bridge | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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A View From the Bridge


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Synergy Theatre Company

at the Broadway Arts Center

The pot really boils in this 1949 Arthur Miller domestic tragedy--where the arrival of one too many relatives triggers a violent jealousy in a too-close family.

As in Miller's other early plays, All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge focuses pitilessly on the one fatal sickness threatening a family. In this case, however, it's not a father's lethal cost cutting or his unquestioning pursuit of the American Dream that's the problem. In A View From the Bridge, a story that seems tailor-made for verismo opera, the poison is Eddie Carbone's corrosive jealousy--a rage he cannot understand, though it reveals the overprotective, passionate feelings he has for his wife's niece, Catherine. By View's end it's a law unto itself, suspending Eddie's common sense, his better judgment, even his sense of justice. Though Eddie never comes to know himself, as the lawyer (and narrator) Alfieri intones, "He allowed himself to be wholly known. And yet it is better to settle for half. . . . I mourn him with a certain alarm."

Miller relies on the old device of introducing a stranger--or in this case, two strangers--in order to force a necessary change. Marco and Rodolfo, illegal Sicilian immigrants, are given shelter by their cousin Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman living with his wife Beatrice and her 18-year-old niece, Catherine. The strong and serious Marco wants to earn enough to return to his wife and children, but his brother, the unattached, younger Rodolfo, quickly falls in love with New York--and Catherine (but not in that order).

Eddie instantly takes a dislike to Rodolfo's blond hair, his ability to croon "Paper Doll," his joking, cooking, and tailoring talents (all of which convince him Rodolfo just "isn't right"), but most of all to his romance with Catherine, the niece he's cared for all his life. He convinces himself that Rodolfo only pretends to love Catherine--that Rodolfo will marry her only to become a U.S. citizen. The truth is Eddie can never let Catherine leave. And now, with a "rival" in the house, Eddie's ideal--he calls her "Madonna"--is blooming into an independent woman. Inevitably, Eddie's guilt over his forbidden feelings demands a scapegoat, the unwitting Rodolfo.

What results, though every bit a crime of passion, is also an assault on trust, honor, and the community's cohesiveness. At the end, when Eddie clamors, "I want my respect," he still can't see why he committed his betrayal (and that blindness finally makes him less than tragic): his motive was never an honorable intention to defend Catherine from an opportunistic lover but his rage that she had a lover.

Using a plot that just skirts the pitfalls of melodrama, Miller nonetheless aims at the timeless inevitability of tragedy (reserved, as in Salesman, for the common man). And Eddie's failure to confront his dark side does make him, as the all-knowing Alfieri puts it, "perversely pure," like Othello.

Alfieri says the events he describes happened "like a dream." It's a cue the director, Mark Fritts, seems to take in his Synergy Theatre Company staging, which has a dreamlike slowness. He elicits some impressive work from his young cast, but on opening night it was vitiated by a tendency to prolong the passions with a throaty, breathless, imitation intensity. Eddie's may be a family tragedy, but it shouldn't be claustrophobically shuttered. Slow down this play, and it gets stagy and even campy.

But even though the first act suffers from curious energy lapses (the scene building feels like emotional calisthenics), the second act's vigor proves the ingredients are there, they just need to heat up sooner. They do in Melody Rae's Beatrice; Rae compensates for looking too young for the part with a tough resilience that makes Beatrice startlingly like Willie Loman's resourceful Linda, a woman who's seen too much not to forgive almost anything. Rae's frenzied attempts to reclaim her husband and protect him from his own death wish are pure, unpretentious heroism.

Though brimming over with early-Brando sound and fury, Reid Ostrowski as Eddie (also technically too young) gets hung up on the externals, like Eddie's hulking stride and humorless demeanor; it's energy that could go into conveying his more complex conflicts, his unconscious guilt and his fear, for example, that Beatrice will find him out. Ostrowski's instincts are on the mark, however, and there's no question about the passion and sincerity of everything he does.

Without milking her character's innocence, Annette Lazzara manages to mix Catherine's certainty about her love with a telling confusion about everything else; she needs to quicken her pacing to bring that mixture to life. Greg Rohe's Rodolfo suffices as the sweet to Eddie's sour; and it's painful to watch how slowly Rodolfo catches on to the trouble he's stirring up. As Rohe proved with his green-as-grass minister in Moonlight Daring Us to Go Insane, he's a versatile actor, too good to rely on just pouncing on his lines and neglecting the moments in between; on opening night his big quarrel with Catherine (she asks him to take her to Italy, which to him means a life of poverty) fell flat when Rohe dropped his anger between his cues; his indignation seemed merely righteous.

Rounding out the principals, James Asch gives Marco's Sicilian pride an underpinning solid enough that we believe the vendetta it inspires, but Thom Pinault ruminates too remotely as Alfieri, a sage whose wisdom seems to come from centuries beyond the play's real time.

Jacqueline and Richard Penrod grab all the playing area they can--their serviceable set scatters the action well; Lynn Sandberg's period costumes nail down the time frame; and Ken Yunker's lighting neatly pits the cold, blue street against the eerily bright home.

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