‘A View from the Bridge’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 20, 2018

‘A View from the Bridge’ is Arthur Asher Miller’s 1955 tragic masterpiece. Originally a one-act version, Miller expanded it to a two-act, prose drama classic.

Born on 17th October 1915 in the Jewish section of Harlem, GRADS’ opening night would have been his 103rd birthday.

His father, Isidore, owned a manufacturing business that employed 400 people making women’s clothing; yet as a teenager, Miller was forced to earn his own living, by delivering bread every morning before school.

Miller’s first play ‘The Man Who Had All the Luck’ won the prestigious Theatre Guild’s National Award, and yet the play received disastrous reviews, closing after only four performances. However, after writing Act I of ‘Death of a Salesman’ in less than a day, its first production ran for two years.

Miller’s second marriage was in 1956 to film star Marilyn Monroe. She hated Hollywood and simply wanted a family life in the countryside. When Marilyn converted to Judaism to ‘express her loyalty and get close to both Miller and his parents’, Egypt banned all of her movies. Next, the legendary Miller was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was cleansing the USA of Communists. Soon after, Monroe died of drug overdose.

Saddened and furious, Miller used the HUAC’s witch-hunt as the basis for ‘the happenings in 1692 Salem’ in his epic ‘The Crucible’. Later, when Miller applied for a renewal of his passport, the House Un-American Activities Committee demanded the names of friends and colleagues who had participated in similar activities. Miller refused to comply and was sentenced to a fine, a prison sentence, blacklisted, and disallowed to own a US passport. A few years later, when Miller campaigned for the freedom of dissident writers, in an incredible twist, his works were then banned in the Soviet Union as too American.

Miller died of bladder cancer and heart failure, 10th February 2005.

The Graduate Dramatic Society is now staging five performances of this 100-minute (no interval), highly emotive production; a drama of craving, passion, covetousness and betrayal in the UWA Dolphin Theatre, at 35 Stirling Highway in Crawley. Curtains rise each evening at 7.30 pm, until Saturday 20th October. There is one matinée at 2.00 pm on Saturday afternoon.

 

     Scene: Ground floor flat, 441 Saxon Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn New York.

     Set: is based on the 2015 Young Vic’s production, designed by Jan Versweyveld. The set is simple and does not distract from the rich dialogue.  It was constructed by Gary Wetherilt and aided by his painters Eddie Stowers and Seanne Sparrow. The stage had a 4 x 6 metre oblong, enclosed by a black 60 cms wall, to form a pit. The rear wall had a couple of steps up to a door frame leading ‘outside’ – all were matt black. Two rows of chairs for the audience ran outside the acting area, parallel to the wings. They gave an unrestricted view and an opportunity to be next to the ringside action.

Mark Nicholson’s lighting design, which incorporated some clever effects, was sensitively operated by Cedric Beidatsch. The soundscape design and operation were by Justin Camilleri and Daniel Toomath; wow! What a clever choice of music. At times of stress there was the simple rhythmic heartbeat of a tom-tom drum. Then as the suspense built up, a musical background of double basses and cellos filled the auditorium before a high church choir singing a canticle joined in. At one point a soloist singing bass (Gabriel Faure’s requiem?) almost brought tears.

Production manager Seanne Sparrow and her stage managers, Neale Paterson and Kiri Siva, did a brilliant job.

 

         An autumn morning mist drifts in from the river, over the Italian-American community on the New York City waterfront. An Italian-born lawyer in his fifties, Alfieri (David Cotgreave) is like Arthur Miller acting as narrator of the story. Speaking directly to the audience he describes the poverty-stricken neighbourhood, filled with Sicilian longshoremen (wharfie or docker) and their families. He makes us aware of the social and moral implications of this modern fairy tale.

       Eddie Carbone (Dean McAskil) is a hardworking but poorly educated, longshoreman. Having received anti-immigrant abuse for years, he has learnt to suppress his feelings and urges. He lives with his warm, caring wife, Beatrice (Sally Barendse) who points out his impotence and their flagging marital relationship. Eddie does not realise he is harbouring a secret lust for his beautiful, 17 yrs. old niece, Catherine (Grace Edwards), a smart, young Italian orphan.

Catherine is dressed in a new skirt and has done up her hair. When Eddie arrives home, she leaps on him, and snuggles in like an eight-year-old. Eddie loves this attention from her, and then when Catherine lights Eddie’s cigar, it seems to give Eddie abnormal pleasure (phallic suggestion?).

       Eddie tell Beatrice that her cousins, two ‘Submarines’ (illegal immigrants), who have been smuggled over on a ship from Italy, have arrived early. They are to be given false seamen’s papers to get them off the ship with the crew. Thinking the house is not clean enough, Beatrice panics, but her cousins will be grateful for any place to stay.

       Catherine is thrilled to tell Eddie that she has been offered a job as a stenographer. Petrified of losing control over her, Eddie opposes the idea, but Beatrice adds her support for the job. Eddie warns Catherine and Beatrice not to talk to anyone about housing the cousins. Eddie relates the tragic story of a young boy who dobbed in his uncle to the immigration police (Neale Paterson, Matti Helm).  

A fellow docker, Louis (Emerson Brophy), brings the two brothers to the flat. Beatrice is overjoyed to meet her cousins. The elder, Marco (Judd Millner) is married with three children, so he wants to send his wages home as they are all starving. The younger brother, Rodolpho (Thomas Dimmick) has blonde hair and blue eyes; Catherine is immediately overawed. The cousins describe their dire lives in Italy, and their dreams for living in the U.S.

       Disturbed by Catherine’s interest in Rodolpho, Eddie asks her why she is wearing high heels, and to take them off immediately. When Rodolpho and Catherine become even closer, Eddie’s ‘paternal interest’ turns to terrifying jealousy. Rodolpho mentions his brief career back in Italy as a singer, but having no release for his pent-up feelings, Eddie transfers his vigour to hate. After all, ‘there is something very wrong’ with Rodolpho, he can cook, sing, sew dresses – certainly not normal in Eddie’s eyes, especially as a suitor for Catherine!

        Can the situation resolve itself?

Jennifer Prosser’s costumes were superbly chosen for their muted colours and the era.

Never scared of a difficult challenge, over the years director Barry Park has boldly presented and directed some magnificent plays, and yet this must be one of his best. How rare is it to have a complete cast who can be on stage non-stop for almost 100 minutes, and yet be word perfect – with no fluffs or hesitations? Then how often can one say that a cast really understands and inhabits their characters? Add to this having to speak with a subtle accent, a perfect pace, immaculate phrasing of the delivery, and the natural body language. Tremendous performances by a cast who were perfectly in tune with their chemistry.

I am sure the fellow performers will not mind me giving a special mention to Dean, who had the difficult task of hinting at his supressed affectionate emotions, and then with only minor facial changes, could bring a real chill to the room. Brilliant.

A stunning and moving tragedy. Congratulations to all concerned. Try your best to catch the last show.