In Arthur Miller’s "A View from the
Bridge," now at the Heights Players, the bridge is the Brooklyn
Bridge and the view is grim, gritty and violent.
Miller certainly spent many years in the borough. The son of a Jew who worked in the garment industry, Miller had his bar mitzvah at the Avenue M Synagogue and passed much of his youth in Midwood. And as a grown man, he lived in Brooklyn Heights with his second wife, Marilyn Monroe.
But this tale is of blue-collar, Sicilian immigrants who live in Red Hook and make their living working on the docks. Miller was determined to make a tragic hero of a man who has no special claim to greatness.
In his famous 1949 essay "Tragedy and the Common Man," Miller wrote: "Insistence upon the rank of the tragic hero, or the so-called nobility of his character is really but a clinging to the outward forms of tragedy. If rank and nobility of character was indispensable, then it would follow that the problems of those with rank were the particular problems of tragedy. But surely the right of one monarch to capture the domain of another no longer raises our passions, nor are our concepts of justice what they were to the mind of an Elizabethan king."
With the neighborhood lawyer, Alfieri (the perfectly calm, thoughtful and effective Steven Bergquist), serving as the narrator/chorus, "A View from the Bridge" unfolds much like a Greek tragedy. The tragedy is the toppling of longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Pierre O’Farrell), who, like Othello, "loves not wisely but too well."
The object of Eddie’s love is his niece, Catherine (LeeAnn Valvano), whom he has raised since the death of her mother. Over the years, Eddie’s love for his niece has become an obsession that interferes with his sexual and emotional relationship with his wife, Beatrice (Penny Frank), and prevents him from letting Catherine grow up, get a job and leave home.
The situation comes to a head when Catherine starts dating Rodolpho (Jamie Wollrab), Beatrice’s cousin and the younger brother of Marco (Kevin Hauver). The Carbones have agreed to temporarily put up the two Sicilian immigrants, who have entered the country illegally with the intention of working on the docks.
But Eddie now regrets his generosity.
Wollrab’s Rodolpho is charming and courteous. He sings, he dances, and most of all, he’s respectful. But Catherine’s uncle refuses to see any of this.
Eddie claims he objects to Rodolpho because the young Italian is only courting Catherine so he can marry her and become a citizen, or worse yet, because "he just ain’t right" - code words for homosexuality.
The imminent tragedy is as obvious as the knife Eddie wears on his belt.
Under the direction of Heights Players veteran Robert J. Weinstein ("Sweet Bird of Youth," "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," "Inherit the Wind"), the Heights Players have brought out all the passion and compassion in Miller’s play.
O’Farrell defends his turf like an injured lion. His eloquence lies in inarticulate rage and the overwhelming desire he dares not proclaim or even admit.
Valvano excels at the even more difficult task of making a woman, who now seems hopelessly beyond our liberated understanding, not only convincing but worthy of our sympathy.
Presenting "A View from the Bridge" on an open, three-sided stage is quite a challenge. Although the intimacy of the Heights Players’ theater works for them, the fact that often during the most intense emotional scenes one or more of the actors is not facing the audience is a definite problem.
Even more problematic are the activities of the circling denizens of Red Hook who appear between scenes but are sometimes hard to discern or comprehend. Often these transitions are slow and awkward and seem more like interruptions than mood-setters.
When "A View from the Bridge" was first presented at the Coronet Theatre in 1955, it was a one-act, part of a double bill with Miller’s "A Memory of Two Mondays." The following year, Miller revised the script into a two-act drama for Peter Brook to produce in London.
Perhaps even Miller did not at first realize the depth of his own work.
Fortunately, the Heights Players have treated Miller’s play with great attention and respect. This is a heart-wrenching production that will keep your hands clenched and your eyes riveted - indeed sometimes full.
The Heights Players production of "A View from the Bridge" plays through Jan. 25, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 seniors and children. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.