A View from the Bridge is a pertinent redressing of ancient Greek tragedy, as it encounters the grit of modern day, kitchen-sink realism and fuses with the star-spangled allure of the American Dream. A genre no longer restricted to the realms of royalty and celestial figures, this is a tragedy reassigned to working-class American exploits.
Charlotte Gwinner’s direction remains loyal to the gritty realism of Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama, confining its events to the single room of a humble Brooklyn apartment. It’s an aptly claustrophobic setting for a family that has outgrown the protective familiarity of its walls.
An undistinguished, unheroic dock worker, Eddie Carbone has enjoyed a seemingly pleasant and ordinary relationship with his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine. Yet, as Catherine begins to fall in love with Rodolpho, an illegal Italian immigrant living in their home, her relationship with Eddie putrefies rapidly before our eyes. His inappropriate, misplaced fixation is exposed beneath the bright lights of the stage for all to see – for all, that is, except the very perpetrator of these emotions. In obstinate self-denial, and a desperate attempt to protect his name within the community, Eddie convinces himself that Rodolpho’s motive in marrying Catherine is solely to gain American citizenship.
It is this very community, the collective presence of the Other, that collides head on with the individual Self, which in turn must be reined in and renegotiated in order to continue without conflict. Alfieri, a lawyer within the community, helps connect us as an audience- as an Other- to the individual plights of Eddie and his family. As we take our seats, the actors have already begun upon the stage, jousting and pitching pennies in the street. The theatre lights remain on and the waiting audience is unable to hear them, their actions reduced to impenetrable, silent motions. It is not until the lights dim and Alfieri enters the stage, taking up the empty space between set and audience, that we are brought at last into the story. Through his narration, a bridge is formed, connecting the Brooklyn waterfront with the awaiting Playhouse. It’s a bridge that consciously keeps the audience at a distance and, alongside Alfieri’s probing questions and musings, we are encouraged to piece together a wider understanding of the unfolding events.
In true tragic occurrences, this is a panoramic vantage point Eddie is not permitted access to. Perhaps if he were, he would not have met his fatal downfall. Instead, he becomes so embroiled in his imagined reality that he is blinded to the true nature of events around him. Even Alfieri cannot bridge the abyss between his inner world and that of the family and wider community, despite his warnings, “…there is too much love for the niece. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
Eddie’s raw energy is performed by Lloyd Hutchinson with an almost childlike naïveté and confusion. The intensity with which he dotes upon Catherine is uncomfortable to witness, his disregard for Beatrice selfish and his betrayal of the Italian immigrants to the authorities inexcusable. Yet, he never appears so heartless or dishonourable that we recoil from the man himself. Instead, we bear witness to an ordinary, fallible man who, so utterly focussed upon maintaining his convictions in an incompatible external world, is reduced to a desperate, haunted individual unable to deal with the conflict of inner and outer realities. Catherine too, played by Shannon Tarbet, remains caught between the sweet, obedient young girl we are introduced to and the defiance she eventually exerts upon marrying Rodolpho against Eddie’s wishes. Tarbet hints at an adolescent rebelliousness without ever fully transgressing into the unscrupulous rebel role, making it difficult to begrudge her for her actions. Instead, we witness the moments of a young woman growing into her sexuality in an environment that prevents her from embracing the changes.
This ambiguity of virtue and baseness causes the audience to examine their feelings towards the characters. Alfieri, standing at the drama’s edge, traverses time and place though his alignment of events with bygone eras of Caesar and ancient Sicilian cliffs, hinting at a universality inherent to the narrative. Miller urges us, not only to relate Eddie’s actions to our own, and in doing so understand ourselves a little better, but also to evaluate our feelings towards those around us- something Eddie was tragically unable to do.
In honour of the ancient Greek roots of Miller’s work, we should perhaps consider Aristotle’s insistence on the audience to pity and fear, because the same fate could one day befall any one of us.