A stirring Seattle Repertory Theatre production finds current and cosmic themes in Arthur Miller’s 1950s drama “A View From the Bridge.”
Don’t expect the stirring rendering of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” at Seattle Repertory Theatre to be just a slice of 1950s lunch-pail realism.
Yes, Scott Bradley’s hemmed-in urban set, with tantalizing glimpses of the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge, deposits us in a tightly bound, Italian working-class community where men toil as longshoremen and women are housewives or (if ambitious) secretaries. Rose Pederson’s everyday costumes set the scene, too.
This is pre-gentrified Redhook, an enclave where Sicilian Americans speak Brooklyn-ESE English, and lead unremarkable lives that unfold on the docks, the dark brick streets and over dinner tables in cramped flats.
‘A View From the Bridge’
by Arthur Miller. Through Oct. 18 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle; Tickets start at $20 (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org).
Miller didn’t have an ethnic comedy or Mafioso crime drama in mind, after picking up on a true story relayed by a dockworker. What happens in the humble home of jammed-up family man Eddie Carbone also reaches toward Greek tragedy, as obsession, forbidden love, betrayal and rage build to a cathartic crescendo.
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There’s even a one-man Greek chorus narrating his downfall: the sage attorney, Fieri, played by Leonard Kelly-Young.
To scale dramatic peaks, “A View From the Bridge” still requires a pungent sense of time and place — but also a sense of punishing cosmic inevitability, when the tragically flawed disrupt the “natural” order.
Rep artistic director Braden Abraham and an excellent cast happily realize that balance. “View” premiered in1955 as a poetic one-act; the Rep is going with the most familiar two-act version, which runs a taut, ultimately explosive two hours.
Unlike more somber, depressive interpretations of the meaty role, Mark Zeisler’s stocky, weary Eddie seems, at first, a stand-up guy. He’s not without humor or charm at home, as he kibbitizes with his wife, Beatrice (Kirsten Potter), and teases his vivacious teenage niece and ward, Catherine (Amy Danneker).
He’s also generous, agreeing to shelter two illegal Italian immigrants, Marco (Brandon O’Neill) and his younger brother Rodolpho (Frank Boyd). But as Boyd’s fun-loving, ingratiating Rodolpho and the innocent, over-protected Catherine start dating, Eddie’s open hand clenches into a tight fist.
Jealous of Rodolpho and blindly fixated on his niece, Eddie feels his male dominance in the only kingdom he has is draining away. Potter’s assertive, wary Bea also is struggling — with Eddie’s sexual rejection of her, and his increasing denial and troubling behavior.
Incisive, organic and devoid of extraneous theatrical mannerism, the production works itself up to a cathartic climax. It also feels particularly current in two ways: How Eddie’s need to assert his manhood by controlling and infantilizing women results in the sort of emotional and physical violence that’s all too recognizable. And the precarious immigration dilemma of Marco and Rodolpho, who have fled dire poverty, strikes chords with today’s global-refugee crises.
The contradiction between America’s promise of opportunity and liberty, and its stark rejection of certain groups (European Jews in World War II, postwar Italians, now Mexicans and others), is firmly articulated by two undocumented immigrants, who contribute to the workforce but lurk fearfully in the shadows.
However, even with its spurts of violence, and shocker ending, “View” is intrinsically a conversational family drama. Apart from an opening-night blip or two, the Rep actors listened intently to one another, and responded authentically, giving their roles unexpected depth. Even the portentous Alfieri, narrator of Eddie’s fall from grace, was endowed with surprising warmth and humor by Kelly-Young.
Abraham has been slowly working his way through the modern American canon, with increasing clarity and assurance. Last season’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was a testament to that. And this skillfully orchestrated and moving Rep production of a Miller classic is another.