A View from the Bridge
TALKIN' BROADWAY | Review by Eddie Reynolds
April Culver, Jeffrey Fiorito, and Marjorie Hazeltine
Photo by Ray Renati
On its small, intimate stage and with an annual budget that likely cannot come close to matching many of its Bay Area counterparts, Pear Theatre has a reputation for staging classic plays that are bigger in scope than it probably should tackle and then doing so with a keen, fresh look and with consistent excellence. Added to a list of recent successes in this vein that includes Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, and Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Pear Theatre now presents an arrestingly breathtaking, tensely gripping, and strikingly innovative production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge.
This oft-revived, multiple Tony winning play—placed in late 1940s Red Hook ("the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge")—introduces us to a number of gaping valleys and the search for a bridge to connect the two endpoints: Old and New World; first-generation citizens, and recent, illegal immigrants; traditional customs of one generation and the looser, freer ones of the next; a man's love of his wife and his obsession of a young niece. Alfieri (Brian Levi)—an American lawyer in dapper, three-piece suit born in Sicily, Italy, and emigrating to the U.S. at the age of twenty-five—is our bridge between the two cultures and into the story itself. He both periodically narrates and perpetually watches the actions unfold—all the time with calm, pained looks and understanding eyes that clearly signal up front that he already knows all will not end well.
Longshoreman Eddie (Geoff "Jeffrey" Fiorito) and his wife Beatrice (Marjorie Hazeltine) are about to welcome her two cousins who are sneaking into the U.S. seeking work and income not possible in a Sicilian hometown still recovering from a devastating war. Marco (Drew Reitz) is quiet, respectful and hard-working and sends every penny earned to his wife and three kids. The younger, always joking and happy Rodolpho (Anthony Stephens) intends never to leave the U.S. and uses his first paycheck to buy pointed-toe shoes, phonograph records, and movie tickets for him and Catherine (April Culver), Beatrice's sister's daughter who lives with her and Eddie.
Catherine is just leaving stenographer school before graduating to take a job at a big plumbing company—something Eddie opposes to no avail, arguing, "I want to see you with a better class of people." Eddie and Catherine have a special relationship marked by lots of close, face-to-face teasing, hanging onto each other in hugs that last a bit too long, and eyes that come dangerously close to locking in looks not meant for uncle-niece. Beatrice all the time watches with some obvious admiration but also with noticeable and increasing alarm (especially since Eddie has not had sex with her in over three months).
Into this scene arrives handsome, young Rodolpho, who sings "Paper Doll" to Catherine in a rich baritone, loves to swoop her into a spontaneous dance, and is quick to respond in kind to the puppy-sized eyes she now fixates more on him than on her uncle. Eddie is not amused and begins to make insinuations—first to an unbelieving Beatrice and then to anyone who will listen—that this "goddam thief" is here to get his "dirty filthy hands" all over Catherine so she will marry him and thus hand him his highly desired citizenship. "He's a hit-and-run guy.... he's got bright lights in his head, Broadway," convicts judge-and-jury Eddie as he also sets out to prove that this platinum-blond guy who hits singing notes too high ("y'know what I mean") is not the woman-loving man he is making out to be.
And thus sets up a new, Eddie-created gap that others around him desperately seek to close with a bridge built on facts rather than deepened by the inner feelings dared not spoken or even admitted by him.
Geoff (Jeffrey) Fiorito convinces us from the start that his Eddie is, as the narrating lawyer describes, "as good as man as he had to be." Eddie has his stubborn opinions and his over-protective and macho ways as head of household. There is also something charming and likeable in Mr. Fiorito's Eddie that makes us want to hang onto the hope that his increasingly vitriolic outbursts about Rodolpho are a passing phase of father-like behavior by one who is just hesitant to see his little girl turn eighteen and leave home.
But this Eddie begins to send chills down even our necks as his very skin seems to tighten to the point of bursting open with something inside that is about to explode. Frequency and volumes of sudden outbursts startle and frighten—his family, us, and as seen in his deer-in-headlight eyes, even him. At one point, Mr. Fiorito walks about and talks like a zombie, with a pre-destined, no-exit plan of self-destruction seemingly programmed into him that he and no one else can alter. Mr. Fiorito captures in every side-glance of his vacant looks, each suddenly gripped or pounded fist, and each gutturally snarled whisper or shout by an Eddie who cries for help but refuses to accept it.
Under the inspired direction of Ray Renati, all of the play's principals in likened manner move along a path they cannot escape of ever-increasing tension, frustration and fear. Each expresses—cautiously and slowly at first and then with garnered conviction at an alarming, non-stop velocity—their stands to retain self dignity and preservation against the lies (spoken and silent), accusations and betrayals that are mounting around them.
With an accent and manner authentically Brooklyn and Italian, Marjorie Hazeltine as Beatrice incredibly maps on her drawn, worried face the journey of a wife doing all she can to love a man whom she is progressively having trouble understanding, liking and admiring. With hands that sometimes talk more than her mouth and a voice that fluctuates in tone to capture meanings not always said in words, Ms. Hazeltine finds a myriad of ways to bring Beatrice's inner love, doubts, pain and suffering to full light.
Equally superb is April Culver as the flirty Catherine, who struts in high heels and above-knees dress first in front of an admiring, smirking uncle and then all around the amused and ever-amorous Rodolpho. Catherine is clearly a teenager trying to figure out how and when to be a woman ready for independence and when still to retain the little girl in her in order to get what she wants. But as the play's unwanted progression pushes her, Ms. Culver's Catherine is forced to grow up—evident in eyes that seem to sink deeper by the minute into her now-mature face and eyes with tears that well within them but cannot flow enough to relieve the difficult choices she must make.
Drew Reitz and Anthony Stephens each bring their own special skills to portray the rooming immigrants and cousins, Marco and Rodolpho. They too follow the acutely timed, well-measured direction of Ray Renati to transform the shyer, more mature, and restrained Marco and the bubblier Rodolpho bursting with a zest for his new life in America into two men who will confront head-on tribulations and challenges that even an illegal immigrant's nightmares would not dare fathom. What they each muster when called upon to fight the unjust surprises that come their way is electric to watch.
Smaller but well-executed roles are played by Anthony Silk as Eddie's buddy Louis, and Rich Holman as an officer of the government. They round out an ensemble as well cast to a person as any local stage could ever hope to assemble.
Beyond the directing and acting, the unique brilliance of this small-stage production where actors are a mere few feet from audience members is the simple but powerful set design conceived by Norm Beamer. With only one black chair and a wooden bench, a boxing-ring set of red, white and blue straps surrounds the stage on three sides. Characters often enter between the ribbons that serve as a house's walls as they come into what is an increasingly alarming sparring match of wills and words. The sparse stage also allows the powerful words of Miller and the riveting interpretations by this cast to ring and resonate without encumbrance.
Will Prices's sound design emphasizing hits of the late 1940s, operas of Italy, and well-placed versions of American songs of patriotism itself provides a number of bridges into the time, place and themes of the play. Lighting choices by designer Meghan Souther bring the boxing arena into stark reality as required, and allow shadow figures to emerge from unseen streets, hallways and corners. Diana Tasca has ensured the era of the late '40s, a longshoreman's household, and recent immigrants trying to fit in are all accurately portrayed through her well-conceived costuming.
The lawyer Alfieri, among other things, leaves us with this conclusion about this longshoreman, husband and uncle named Eddie: "... [E]ven as I know how wrong he was ... I confess that something perversely pure calls to me ... for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients." As we walk away from the stunning Pear Theatre production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, we cannot help but also carry with us an affection for a man Miller has created who is far from perfect but who is very close to what we also love about America and its rich, imperfect heritage.