“A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller -Touring Consortium Theatre Company, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Miller wrote truthfully from his own experience. His Polish-Jewish parents suffered financially after the Depression and in the 1940s he worked in the Brooklyn docks, the impoverished, Sicilian-Italian-immigrant neighbourhood of “A View from the Bridge”:
“This is Red Hook … the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge. This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world”.
The setting is the Carbone’s small ground-floor apartment of a three storey, red brick townhouse, the home of Eddie, his wife Bea and her 17 year old niece, Catherine. It’s imaginatively, economically designed, with fire-escape steps, a backdrop of the industrial waterfront and telegraph wires, with the central kitchen-diner and bedroom beyond. A shadowy, gloomy mood is depicted by shabby, furniture, soft lamp light and a sense of winter chill in the air.
Based on a factual event, the personal, tragic tale of Eddie Carbone, a hard working longshoreman (dock labourer), is narrated by Alfieri, a feisty, tough-speaking lawyer. His role is like the chorus in Greek Tragedy, to give a precise appraisal of the characters, their feelings, motives and actions.
In the first person style of Hammet and Chandler crime novels, (think Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade), he addresses the audience to describe meeting Eddie a few months earlier:
“His eyes were like tunnels; my first thought was that he had committed a crime, but soon I saw it was only a passion that had moved into his body, like a stranger.”
In a series of flashbacks, we observe the tight-knit Carbone household, the women preparing a frugal dinner, Eddie drinking a beer, smoking a cigar. Overly protective as a father figure, he treats Kate as if still a little girl, oblivious that she is now a young woman.
The arrival of Bea’s cousins, Marco and Rodolfo from Italy starts of amenably, as Eddie acts the genial host offering bed, board, and, moreover, a safe haven as illegal immigrants. But when Kate becomes involved with the handsome blond Rodolpho, Eddie’s deep (perhaps unnatural) affection for his niece sparks serious conflict.
The fact that he can sing, cook and sew is effeminate in his view, “the guy aint right,” he confides to Alfieri, in his attempt to find a legal way to break up the romance.
Jonathan Guy Lewis portrays Eddie’s bullish, bullying attitude with a simmering aggression bubbling under the surface. His contempt for Rodolfo is clearly expressed in his sneering, sardonic tone of voice.
Catherine is portrayed by Daisy Boulton with a blend of sweet girlishness and blossoming femininity. With her happy go lucky nature, she tries to appease the growing tension between the three men, aided by the quiet, kindly Bea. The smooth, well paced direction is like a neatly choreographed dance, with lighting, music and costumes all adding to encapsulate the vintage period manner and style.
Eddie is a tragic figure willing to sacrifice everything for his deluded convictions, personal pride and repressed sexuality. His repeated mantra demanding respect for him, his name, his home, shows a man about to crack out of control, the emotionally-wrought atmosphere heightened by rich poetic language.
As a commentary on the desperate fate of Marco and Rodolfo within the wider context of American life, Miller believed in the theatre’s ability to bring about social change. With the current global crisis of refugees and illegal immigrants, this is a timeless tale of political economy and civil rights.
With a large number of schoolchildren in the audience, I envisaged texting and sweet rustling. But not a word was heard as we became drawn into this chilling, Shakespearian-themed drama of patriarchy, passion, betrayal and revenge.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – 28 April to 2 May, 2015 – http://www.edtheatres.com