Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Powerful production of "A View from the Bridge" - great cast!

Kirsten Potter and Amy Danneker in A View from the Bridge (Alabastro Photography)
A View from the Bridge
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through October 18, 2015

Director Braden Abraham’s notes about his mounting of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge reference the timeliness of the play because of Syrian refugees and the issue of immigration. In that, I disagree with him. The play does revolve around a couple of Sicilian illegal immigrants coming into Eddie Carbone’s family. But immigration issues really only point to the power and privilege that Eddie wields over them.

Arthur Miller’s play is not important because of current events. The play is important because of its reflection of privilege and obsession and the power of self-destruction, and rooted in history. It is far more poetic than most plays, with a narrator lawyer (Leonard Kelly-Young) who tells us ahead of the coming tragedy that he can see it coming and cannot stop it. In fact, he does everything he can to advise Eddie (Mark Zeisler) to right his own ship before it sinks.

Miller took a small man, an ordinary family, and elevated them to great drama. This meme was where great American writing took dramatic storytelling, where most often plays had been about royalty and the wealthy. Miller was of the budding tradition of Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill. They used the nuclear family to substitute for grand ideas and great drama. Poverty was acceptable as an economic theatrical display.

A View from the Bridge is not easy to watch from a 2015 perspective. Eddie Carbone is a small-minded Italian-American longshoreman and relishes his position as head of his family, with his wife, Beatrice (Kirsten Potter), and niece, Catherine (Amy Danneker), whom he has raised from a small girl. The aesthetic of the day (the play appears to be set in the 1940s) is that men have an unquestioned right to dictate their opinions to the females of the family.

It’s also an age of little real conversation with a lot unsaid. There are code words. Beatrice’s relatives arrive from Europe to be hidden away from immigration officials. Marco (Brandon O’Neill) is a hard-working family man whose family is starving. Rudolpho (Frank Boyd) is single and carefree, loves to sing, and make jokes. Eddie dislikes him practically on sight, then feels like Rudolpho’s behavior points to him being gay. No one ever says a real word about any of that. It’s all innuendo.

Eddie also has a strong, and to Beatrice’s eye, unnatural attachment to his niece. He tries to poison Catherine’s attraction to Rudolpho. His lack of ability to rule his world takes its toll on the whole family.

Zeisler and Kelly-Young inhabit their roles strongly. Zeisler is a robust man who looks like he strains to tamp down his energy and imbues Eddie with an air of restrained violence. Potter and Danneker beguile in their family role and feed off each other magnificently. O’Neill does well in a role with few lines, but has the necessary physique for a strapping dock worker. And Boyd brings the fresh air of abandon and enjoyment, exactly as ordered.

Scott Bradley has given us a beautiful set with a 3-dimensional bridge and tenement background and a ground-floor apartment. Rose Pedersen’s costumes reflect the period well and give the women flattering and up-to-date looks of the time that still fit a modest-budget purse.

Abraham directs this piece strongly, keeping the pot bubbling but not overboiling. However, there is a disconcerting choice to break the living room wall space by having people walk through it, instead of in the door. This mars an otherwise sophisticated effort, and shows Abraham’s growing security in directing.

Overall, this play is worth experiencing on the stage, rather than just on the page. The cast brings it to life beautifully. Then afterward, you can go eat spaghetti and talk about it.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.