Blood and Country

Arthur Miller takes on the intricacies of the American family in A View From the Bridge.

Near the end of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, an immigrant worker strides through the streets of Brooklyn in search of the drunken longshoreman who has wronged him. Waving away another's placating pronouncements, the fiery man lifts his voice heavenward and cries, "He degraded my brother, my blood! He robbed my children! Where is the law for that?!" An instant later, a beer-swilling Eddie Carbone appears in the doorway of his modest brick home and bellows, "I want my respect!" While their neighbors stand dumbstruck, Eddie and his Sicilian cousin make their private feud a frighteningly public matter, appealing to the local citizenry to render a communal verdict concerning each man's loss of dignity. As the drama marches toward its awful conclusion, tragedy's power to transform individual cares into universal concerns hurtles to the forefront.

Miller's timeless tale about honor, desire and betrayal, which is being presented at the Acoma Center by HorseChart Theatre Company, has taken on many forms since it was originally produced in 1955 in New York as a one-act play and, a year later, in England as a full-length piece. In addition to Sidney Lumet's 1962 film version, a 1965 off-Broadway revival starred Robert Duvall, and a recent Broadway production earned Anthony LaPaglia a Tony Award for Best Actor. Following the example of Robert Ward's musical version of Miller's The Crucible (which was given a splendid production by the Central City Opera two summers ago), A View From the Bridge has even been adapted for the operatic stage: William Bolcom's world-premiere work of the same name sold out its run at the Lyric Opera of Chicago last fall and is scheduled to be mounted by New York's Metropolitan Opera in the near future.

While HorseChart's engaging effort doesn't scale such grand heights, director Philip A. Russell and company competently navigate the play's dizzying highs and lows. Despite some pacing problems and a few static episodes, the performers appear to gain confidence with every scene. Propelled by a handful of fine portrayals and Miller's ability to couch the cares of common folk in the language of high tragedy, the one-and-three-quarter-hour show eventually hums along with near-Spartan efficiency.

Eyes on the prize: Brett Aune and Andrea Tichy in A View From the Bridge.
Eyes on the prize: Brett Aune and Andrea Tichy in A View From the Bridge.

Leading the company is high school sophomore Andrea Tichy, whose touching turn as Eddie's niece Catherine serves as an oasis of clarity in an often murky environment. Although Catie, as she's called, is torn between the uncle who raised her (and, we learn, who lusts after her) and the immigrant youth who sweeps her off her feet, Tichy never allows her character to become a mere victim of circumstance. Instead, she emphasizes Catie's desire to make a better life for herself, even if that means disappointing the loved ones who have struggled to make her future happiness possible.

Although Donald Ryan's detailed portrayal of Eddie gradually becomes compelling, he initially seems to be little more than a '50s version of Archie Bunker, complete with an appetite for beer and cigars, a propensity to shoot from the lip and an affinity for his well-worn armchair. Ryan sometimes permits Eddie's unhealthy desires for Catie to rocket uncomfortably to the surface -- during, for instance, a discussion with his wife, Beatrice (Michelle Hanks), about the coldness of their marriage bed -- but he frequently cloaks Eddie in a cloud of avuncular cluelessness. For example, when Eddie decides to save Catie for himself by betraying her boyfriend, he snitches on his fellow countrymen (who reside under his roof) with a sense of weak resignation instead of prideful arrogance. While that approach suggests Eddie's inability to deal with the external forces that threaten to topple him, it fails to convey a tragic figure's responsibility for his own downfall. Even so, the talented character actor proves capable of rising to the occasion, especially at the top of Act Two and, near play's end, when his lurching doorway appearance portends Eddie's certain disaster.

As the pair of Sicilian brothers (or "submarines") who arrive in New York with empty pockets and hopeful hearts, Brett Aune and Stephen Cosgrove render larger-than-life portraits without resorting to the bluster of caricature. Aune imbues the lovelorn, effeminate Rodolpho with an ingratiating sense of whimsy, while Cosgrove summons Marco's seething resentment with volcanic force. Hanks is more of an ineffectual spouse than a woman powerless to force her husband to acknowledge his own blind spots, but she manages to locate Beatrice's maturity and reason. "If it was a prince that came here for you, it would be no different," she gently explains to Catie when Eddie disapproves of her romance with Rodolpho. And Brook Millard is serviceable as Alfieri, the neighborhood lawyer who advises Eddie and, from time to time, addresses the audience as a conscientious choric figure.

However, the actors don't always appear to be comfortable on the sprawling set, which essentially consists of two playing areas -- the front portion of the stage floor and a platform that's located directly behind and eight feet above it -- that are each defined by blackened brick backdrops. It's a marvelous way to suggest a once-mighty world that's poised to crumble, but the effect seems more far-flung than evocative. A more abstract setting of partial walls and a subtly lit netherworld of empty space would suggest the same mood while allowing for a more economical staging: The scenes in Alfieri's office, for instance -- as well as the crucial pay-phone moment -- would crackle with a greater degree of tension if they were staged within an arm's reach of the rest of the action instead of fading into the upper platform's darkened corners.

Overall, though, the company plays to its strengths without turning Miller's modern classic into a domestic melodrama full of familial angst.

 
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