A View from the Bridge theatre review (Southbank Theatre, Melbourne)

This is the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge.
This is the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world.

In 1947 Arthur Miller heard the story that was to become the basis for A View from The Bridge. Of the longshoreman who reported two ‘illegals’ to immigration authorities in order to prevent one of them marrying his niece. Of betrayal. Of death.

Miller saw it as a story with all the elements of classic Greek Tragedy.

As an historical curio at the least – written in the shadow of McCarthyism, the Cold War, personal betrayal, and during the time when Miller became obsessed with and married to desirable, childlike, every-man’s-fantasy Marilyn Monroe – View is of interest.

As designs go, this one is lean – unless the single chair that constitutes Christina Smith’s set is much more expensive than it looks.

Aside from the aforementioned chair and the odd (well-hidden) rise, director Iain Sinclair has gone for a completely stripped-back environment – the stage seems vast – and Niklas Pajanti’s compelling lighting design.

So let’s meet the Carbones:

– Eddie (Steve Bastoni) whose growing obsession for his niece, is beyond healthy:

Now don’t aggravate me, Katie, you are walkin’ wavy!
And with them new high heels on the sidewalk – clack, clack, clack…
you’re a baby, you don’t understand these things.

– Catherine (an excellent Zoe Terakes), with her own (breathtaking) lack of awareness and emerging sexuality. (Fun fact: Lolita was published the same year as View, so clearly, burgeoning young womanhood was disturbing men everywhere)

– Beatrice (a superb Daniela Farinacci) – intimating, rather than instructing, doing anything to avoid naming the name of Eddie’s obsession:

…you can’t act the way you act. You still walk around in front of him in your slip –                                                                       
Or like you sit on the edge of the bathtub talkin’ to him when he’s shavin’ in his underwear

And Beatrice’s cousins (more relations!), illegal arrivals in need of someplace to stay:

– Rodolpho (Andrew Coshan), the stoic strongman, whose skills include singing, dancing and the ability to alter a frock

– Marco (Damien Walsh-Howling)
He’s a regular bull.

Pretty soon Catherine and Rudolpho are talking marriage.
He’s stealing from me!

Pretty soon Eddie’s increasingly heavy-handed attempts to diss Rodolpho
He give me the heeby-jeebies the first minute I seen him are turning darker.

Removing any sign of place, except for character accents (a bit inconsistent aside from Farinacci and Terakes) and textual information, pushes the play into the Timeless Zone, or ‘Ritual Space’ as I like to call it; and there are some very beautiful staging moments as a result. But it does come at a cost.

We’re in a kind of limbo land, suspended between the old country – which old country makes no difference – and the new; between the old ways and the new; between an enclave of inner city nationalism (little China, little Poland, little Italy) and the blandness of suburban anonymity. The same suspended reality as the characters, the bridge.

On this wide, open stage, we loose the contrast between the immense possibility represented by Brooklyn Bridge itself (one of the “Seven Wonders of the Industrial World”, according to the BBC) and the pressure cooker of forced intimacy, the heightened claustrophobia that comes from the stultifying overheated, overcrowded flat.

Initially, the slack is picked up by sounds (Kelly Ryall) of the docks – clanging metal, horns, the sea – hanging on the air, but pretty soon, those specific sounds make way for a more general atmospheric menace. In the absence of anything else to hang onto, and however prescriptive it may seem, I’d have welcomed the inevitable radio, or melting-pot snatches of ‘foreign’ languages to the underscore…

The costuming (also Christina Smith) is authentic to period, but where the men are concerned, it’s a bit too polite. It hides what it needs to reveal – the sweaty, physical, visceral reality, the (potentially terrifying) strength of male bodies engaged in heavy manual labour, loading and unloading cargo for hours, days on end.

At times the play feels like the kind of documentary that traces back from the ‘awful event’ to root causes that make what’s happened seem inevitable or pre-ordained:

I knew, I knew then and there I could have finished the whole story that afternoon.
It wasnt as though there was a mystery to unravel. I could see every step coming,
step after step, like a dark figure walking down a hall toward a certain door.
I knew where he was heading for, I knew where he was going to end.

says Alfieri (Marco Chiappi), the American-Italian lawyer, who narrates the story.

The end of the play deals with retribution and death. Eddie is shunned by the community (Simon Maiden is a cast of thousands) for his act of treachery:

I want my respect…I want my name he bellows.

But the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was, and his death useless,
I tremble, for I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory
not purely good, but himself purely, for he allowed himself to be wholly known…  

And we’re supposed, I assume, to see him for a good man despite all.

And you know that catharsis you’re supposed to feel after watching a tragedy? This time, it doesn’t come.

Watching A View from The Bridge in 2019 isn’t difficult because of its depiction of betrayal and snitching. It’s the portrayal of irrational, violent and somehow inevitable ‘don’t make me…’ male anger that makes it tough.

And I find myself wondering how I would have responded to this play if I’d seen it as a teenager.

But now it feels as though it’s at a bit of a distance. A bit muted. A bit detached. A sort of rehearsal for a tragedy.

And I’ve a vague feeling of surprise at how it ends.

If this were real life, I find myself thinking, the women would be dead.            

Melbourne Theatre Company production A View from the Bridge is on at Southbank Theatre until April 19.  [PIC: Melbourne Theatre Company/Facebook]

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