Red Line Productions presents, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, by Arthur Miller, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Wooloomooloo. 18 October - 25 November.
Sitting in the Old Fitz Theatre in a newly configured traverse space with only a blond wooden floor between my audience companions on the other side, and the lighting changes – a suited figure begins to talk to us (the leader of a chorus?) – a man we come to know as Lawyer Alfieri (David Lynch) – introduces us to the situation and premise of the play in an extremely direct way (no expositional time wasting here). We learn quickly what is at stake in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. We absorb it carefully and take it into an unbroken two hour contract of playtime.
Within minutes, of the performance commencement, one can feel (see) a comfort ripple cross the audience that affects on it an open relaxation - a naked vulnerability - to attend to the action with a secure trust that this writer has authority - we intuit, swiftly, that we are in the presence of a master playwright/storyteller, in 'safe hands', and in this case, they are the hands of one of the Greats of the American Theatre, Arthur Miller.
Miller with skill and respect allows us to re-experience our childhood hunger to know what happens next (remember squirming with curiosity wondering 'What happens to Snow White next?') Of this story it is obvious to us, almost instantaneously, that the longshoreman Eddie Carbone is going to get into 'trouble' if he keeps doing what he is doing, and we observe that he is so possessed with an urge so primitive that he cannot stop what he is doing, and that nobody can stop him from doing it. He is a bullish Sicilian patriarch. The Greek Kindly Ones (the Eumenides) have found a chink in his human nature and they will not let him go until he is destroyed. One knows from the beginning more or less what is likely to be the end of this journey. What Miller has done is to intrigue us not so much with the WHAT happens but HOW it happens.
Miller gives us a story that mesmerises us into a gathering stupor of breathtaking dread and, as well, which is not always given by our contemporary writers, the pleasure of living for two hours in a moral universe. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is a play that is like a gulp of fresh air (as was, for me, seeing Ibsen's GHOSTS, at Belvoir), a respite from moral and political relativism. Miller is clear and secure in his moral stance, as shocking as it maybe, and its power is as relevant in 2017 in Sydney as it was in 1955/56 America and Europe. It shakes one up and leaves one in a shocked state of awe, just as we are when Ibsen's Hedda Gabler does something at the end of her journey - shoots herself - for people don't do that kind of thing. What Eddie Carbone does at the end of this play ordinary people just don't do.
Eddie Carbone (Ivan Donato) has brought up his wife Beatrice's (Janine Watson) niece, Catherine (Zoe Terakes) with great care. We are introduced to their relationship swiftly and despite that Catherine is now a young blossoming adult we see Eddie holds her a little too close. When two Sicilian illegals, Marco (David Soncin) and Rodolpho (Lincoln Younes), other relatives of Beatrice, are given harbour in their Brooklyn apartment and jobs from the 'Organisation' on the Red Hook waterfront, a sexual tension of an unbearable kind is fanned into a conflagration. Eddie feels his power over Beatrice and Catherine dwindle, his 'reputation' on the docks disrupted with the presence of Rodolpho, and when unable to find a way to subdue his gathering 'furies' is confronted with his own unconscious nature, trapped viscerally by his emotions, he recognises a 'personal' betrayal of himself, that leads him to an act of betrayal that is an unconscionable 'tribal' taboo, for it menaces the whole fabric of their little society down there under the Brooklyn Bridge. Fate decrees that this imperfect man, if he wishes to find some honour, must reach for an act of redemption. The redemptive act he chooses is the stuff of tragedy. The idea of a man fulfilling in extremis his destiny, as the heroes of the Greek theatre did, in modern times, is absolutely compelling. And so it gruesomely is in Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE in the hands of Iain Sinclair's production at the Old Fitz. Arthur Miller said,"However one may dislike the man, who does all sorts of dreadful things, he possesses and exemplifies the wondrous and humane fact that he too can be driven to what in the last analysis is a sacrifice of himself for his conception, however misguided, of right, dignity and justice."
Arthur Miller heard of this true story while researching a film script, THE HOOK (1951) - which was never made - and he was oddly struck with the juxtaposition of the modern traffic crossing the Brooklyn Bridge ignorant and passing over this area below where this Greek drama was taking place and no-one ever thought about it. It is a view from that bridge. His 'homework' for his film helped him capture a specific time and place that permits not only his own personal voice but also the character's individual voice, turn of phrase - for instance, the language of Eddie and the language of Alfieri is pointed in slightly different directions, thus granting them an authentic presence and a fuller life. This language and atmospheric vibrancy of observed truth vibrates insistently throughout the play.
And, too, Arthur Miller, at the time of writing was caught up in the personal 'betrayal' of his own wife, Mary, and family, as he re-ignited his affair with Marilyn Monroe - later to become his second wife - and also in the public tribal betrayals from friends such as Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan for their testimonies to the House Committee on Un-American Activities under the behest of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Betrayal was painfully present in the conscious day-to-day life of this writer. He was writing from what he knew and in hindsight he said with an agony of knowing guilt.
The play is so well written that all the Director need do is to keep his actors and himself in open communication with what is written on the page and allow the writer to speak for himself. Iain Sinclair does this and on these bare wooden floorboards with just a chair and a knife lets his well chosen company of actors get on with telling the story. The combination of all the collaborators of this production are impeccable in their contributions. It is an exciting time in the theatre.
Ivan Donato is cast as Eddie Carbone, and is simply magnificent, courageously insightful and raw in his portrayal, shattering - the fact that he is some fifteen years or more too young for this role, and one misses the physical maturity and heft (I last saw this play on Broadway with Mark Strong), a sign of this actor's 'genius' is that it is no obstacle to our utter belief in every moment he has on stage (given this performance, what as and when will, we see him next? anything, based on this performance it seems, is possible, if given the opportunity). This is true as well of Janine Watson as his wife, Beatrice, who is cast considerably older than her actuality - one just wishes she were a little more 'latin' and less 'presbyterian' in her reading. On the other hand Zoe Terakes, in a theatre debut performance (she is still at school), gives a performance of some physical truth (she has the facial looks to be the child of Mr Donato!) and stability as Catherine, but it does not as yet have the life insight or technical range to provide the contrast of the innocent child sexuality with Eddie, burgeoning into Catherine's lust filled bride awakening with the arrival of Rodolpho. That, from Catherine, is especially pivotal to the action of the play. David Lynch is clear if a trifle too careful as Alfieri and maybe just a little too emotionally involved as the lawyer/narrator of this story. David Soncin gives another tremendous performance as Marco, the older brother of honour (remember his work in THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA or, earlier this year in THE JUDAS KISS]?), whilst Lincoln Younes is physically impressive and has the instinct for Rodolpho if not the emotional plumbing for the complete affective power of this gifted charismatic man, a man with a different kind of masculinity that make him a disturbing subject for homoerotic desire - it can sometimes sit a little too much on the surface. Giles Gartrell-Mills as Louis, creates a dimension of reality that helps anchor the world of the play with a fairly thankless set of opportunities. But, this is nick-picking, for this Ensemble is giving a brilliant night in the theatre, with Arthur Miller's play.
For here with this vibrating ensemble, led by Mr Donato's performance, scenes are indelibly imprinted into our psyches, one after another: Eddie's fear of Catherine finding a job, the singing of 'Paper Doll', Beatrice pleading with Eddie, Beatrice warning Catherine, the boxing match,the raising of the chair, Eddie's discovery of the lovers, Eddie's kiss with Catherine, Eddie's kiss with Rodolpho (brought gasps of shock), the terrible reckoning with Beatrice and the shocking sharpness of the climax.
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is a must see. Red Line at the Old Fitz delivering another remarkable night - you'd be an idiot to miss it.
Set Design is by Jonathan Hindmarsh; Costume Design by Martelle Hunt; Lighting Design by Max Cox; and Sound Design by Clemence Williams.
- The first version of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE was presented as part of a double bill with A MEMORY OF TWO MONDAYS, on Broadway, in 1955. It was revised at the request of Peter Brook, for a London production in 1956. The poetry form for Alfieri was taken away and the roles of Beatrice and Catherine were especially expanded. This play and production had fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain (the British censor), whose strictures made it necessary to turn the Comedy Theatre into a club before Peter Brook's production could be seen by the public. It is the revised version that is being presented at the Old Fitz - although as one act instead of two.
- It is interesting that two of the best nights in the theatre in Sydney at the moment come from the Independent Theatre Sector: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, from Red Line at the Old Fitz and NO END OF BLAME*** by Sport For Jove at the Seymour Centre. They are both plays for real theatre goers.