Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October, 1999
The 1999 theatre season has been bracketed by productions of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”. I declared the season open in late May when Town Players mounted a superb production at BCC. Now Oldcastle weighs in with its production a week after summer has officially concluded. I will resist the temptation to draw parallels, since the productions occurred so close together in my experience, and since the same actor (Aaron Bret Bishoff) appeared as the same character (Rodolpho) in both.
“A View from the Bridge” is constructed strictly as a classical (ie Greek and Roman) tragedy. Eddie Carbone (Paul Falzone) is the tragic hero with the fatal flaw. He loves too much. The constricting nature of his love strangles every good thing around him and within him until life is extinguished. He is not a bad man, he does not mean anyone harm. But he cannot control what he feels and the effect those feelings have.
Eddie is a Brooklyn longshoreman who lives modestly with his wife Beatrice (Dierdre Madigan) and her orphaned, teen-aged niece Catherine (Kate Arrington) whom they have raised from childhood. Despire the fact that the second world war has been over for several years, work is scarce in Italy, and many Italian-American families take in “submarines” – relatives who have arrived illegally in America to work and send money home to their wives and children. There is a strict code of silence in the neighborhood, and to turn in illegal immigrants is considered a heineous crime. Two of Beatrice’s cousins – Marco (Victor Barbella) and Rodolpho (Bishoff) – arrive in this manner, and soon a romance blossoms between the young, single Rodolpho and the 17 year old Catherine. Eddie finds himself unable to cope with the fact that she has become a woman and that he cannot retain control over her.
Falzone, under Eric Peterson’s direction, does not create or sustain the sense of Eddie’s slow descent from average man to destroying monster. The shift comes suddenly in the second act like water bursting from a dam. And the shift comes in a scene where we see Eddie drunk for the first time, which gives him an excuse for being out of control. We need to see the terror in him as he struggles to keep control long before the alcohol frees him to act on his emotions.
Another key element missing in this production is the power and rage of the character of Marco. The final conflict between the two men, which results in Eddie’s death, is pointless if we see Marco as nothing but a thug. Miller establishes the strong sense of family and personal pride in the Scilian heritage of his characters, but Petersen and his cast seem unable to tap into those cultural roots.
Arrington’s Catherine is too worldy and hard edged, despite her attempts at juvenile body language in the early scenes. Petersen hits the incestuous notes between Eddie and Catherine too hard, making Eddie’s affection seem something evil and shameful from the start. Eddie should be as surprised and horrified as anyone else when he discovers the depth of his feelings for Catherine in that drunken scene in the second act. He has not lusted after her these 17 years, but loved and protected her because he promised his wife’s sister on her death bed that he would do so. He is not an abusive uncle, but a loving foster father, unable to cope with the extent of the love he discovers when he looks deep within.
Madden is too young and pretty to play Beatrice, but she does the best job of any on the stage in grasping the loyalty and rhythms of the Italian-American culture Miller has created.
The glue which holds the plot together is the narration of the lawyer Alfieri (Willy Jones). Jones is known for his comic acting, and it is exciting for him to be allowed to make a departure into a serious role. Jones does a fine job with the part, but the problem is that God has made him a funny person. You look at Willy Jones and you want to laugh. He naturally looks and sounds funny. Jones does nothing to encourage you to laugh, but if I were him I would shave the mustache and put on a more sober, lawyerly tie. He will continue to get the laughs that there are in the role (and this tragedy is not without humor) without any assistance from loudly patterned neckwear.
The set by Ken Mooney is compelling to see as you enter the theatre, but soon you become frustrated that Petersen uses only the lowest levels of the multi-layered set. In fact, the very opening of the play takes place to low to the ground that the entire audience craned their necks up and around to see what was going on. Barbara A. Bell has given Catherine far too many changes of costume for a working class girl.
“A View from the Bridge” produced by the Oldcastle Theatre Company, runs through October 16 at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the intersection of VT Rt. 9 and Gypsy Lane. The show runs two hours with one intermission. Call the Oldcastle box office at 802-447-0564 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999