SALT LAKE CITY — When Arthur Miller‘s name is in the “byline” of a play, audiences can be assured of an evening of great writing, fascinating characters, introspection, and illumination. True to form, the Grand Theatre’s production of Miller’s A View from the Bridge delivers all of the above.
The play is set in 1950’s America, in an Italian American neighborhood near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and is based on a true story that Miller said he heard from a lawyer who worked with longshoremen. The play employs a sort of chorus and narrator, bringing all the elements of Greek tragedy in to play as it portrays the disintegration and downfall of a hardworking American and his family (a tragedy of our time, to be sure).
Narrators, I find, are always problematic in a play, especially contemporary plays. Audiences go to the theatre to be shown a story, not to be told a story. A narrator, no matter how well-written a script is, often stops the forward motion of the play, distances the audience, and interrupts the relationships of the characters on stage as they weave in and out. Yet, I understand why Miller used this dramatic device: this play is a tragedy, and often a tragedy needs need the cohesive perspective to navigate the audience through the events that corrode and destroy the characters. David Hanson plays Bridge’s Narrator and does well. He’s a good actor, though his Italian accent was a little shaky, and he brought the necessary insight and perspective that the narration convention usually brings. As Hanson merges into the play as a bona fide character, he’s great as the only level head in Eddie’s life.
At the heart of this play, is Eddie, the tragic protagonist: a middle-aged Brooklyn dock worker whose world revolves around his wife, Beatrice, whom he loves too little and his orphaned niece, Catherine, whom he loves too much. When Catherine falls in love with with Beatrice’s cousin Rodolpho, an illegal Italian immigrant the family is hiding, Eddie disapproves, citing that Rodolpho sings, cooks and can make a dress. Of course, in the 1950s this means he’s a homosexual, and that he belongs “in a dress shop” more than the docks. Eddie conveniently convinces himself that Rodolpho is gay and only courts Catherine to obtain a green card.
Jason Tatom is quite wonderful as Eddie. Actually, Tatom is quite wonderful in anything he’s in. His Eddie is good-hearted, warm and jovial. He seems to have a wonderful relationship with both his wife and his niece, just like a kind uncle should. But therein lies the only problem with the production. Tatom’s Eddie is too good-hearted, too jovial, too warm. In his first scenes with his wife, Beatrice, played to perfection by Teresa Sanderson, they are comfortable, physically close and affectionate on the couch. It all betrays the fact that underneath Eddie’s good-humored exterior, is an unseemly affection for his 17-year-old niece. Therefore, when Beatrice confronts Eddie with the question, “When do I start becoming a wife again?” I didn’t have a clue that the niece might be a wedge between this couple. I thought that Eddie had health issues.
From where he started the play, Eddie was so sensibly convincing in his arguments against Rodolfo that his protestations felt like an overprotective uncle, not a furiously jealous one. I would have liked to have seen Eddie struggle with his feelings for his niece that he knows are wrong, that he knows are there. Beatrice sees them and confronts him with those feelings, and though Eddie denies them, the undercurrent of their truth should be eating away at him.
Eddie has a huge moral flaw, and the seed of that flaw has to be planted at the beginning of the play or it just doesn’t make sense. The audience needs to see the hairline fractures in the relationships at the start so that they can follow those fractures as they split open a chasm that swallows up this family.
But, having said that, readers need to see this show. Though I may find fault with some of its interpretation, the play and performances are enthralling. As I said, Tatom is wonderful as he descends into his irrational jealousy, Sanderson is nuanced and fine as the wife that yearns to regain the love of her husband, Mckenzie Steele Foster is engaging as Eddie’s niece, Catherine. Aaron Adams and Rusty Bringhurst are great as Beatrice’s cousins from Italy, and I loved director Mark Fossen‘s concept and how Eddie’s world kept getting smaller and smaller as Halee Rasmussen‘s set kept pressing into the family’s apartment, imprisoning and pushing them toward their inevitable destruction.
Yes, there are flaws in this production, just as there are flaws in the script, but very few things in life or the theatre are perfect. This is a very worthy production of a worthy play, that deals with issues that are important and timely: immigration, family struggles, overwhelming impulses, the plight and honor of the working class. Go see it.
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