Many shows in the Hampton Roads theatre community have proven to be very timely in the past few years, and A View from the Bridge is no exception.
Originally written as a verse drama in only one act, the two act version most people know (and the version presented by the Little Theater of Virginia Beach) first opened in October of 1956. By this point, playwright Arthur Miller’s best known other works had already made their debuts: All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), An Enemy of the People (1950, based on Ibsen’s play of the same name), and The Crucible (1953). A View from the Bridge continues in the same tradition as these, questioning the morals of individuals along with society as a whole. This particular piece examines the obligation to family versus to the law and how either of those senses of obligation can be used to enable immoral behavior.
The action begins as Louis (George Lynch) and Mike (Jeff Shook), two lollygagging dock workers, abruptly change their demeanor as the attorney Alfieri (Mark Curtis) passes by. Alfieri then addresses the audience to explain the behavior: he is both an insider and an outsider. The men on the docks are second generation, natural born citizens of the U.S. and are willing to work with the legal system, but this wasn’t always the case and suspicions still linger. Alfieri is Sicilian but he’s also part of the American legal system – a go-between for the old ways and the new ways. Perhaps that is why the character of Alfieri feels as out of place as he does. Curtis’s mannerisms and delivery are unlike any of the other actors on stage and this makes sense given the role his character is meant to fill. Alfieri confesses at the end that he himself doesn’t fully know where he stands on the final outcome of the story, and Curtis aptly conveys that sense of separateness from the action throughout his performance.
Dan Cimo and Chris Michiels play Rodolpho and Marco, respectively, whose arrival sets off the conflict of the story. Rodolpho and Marco have entered the country illegally, unable to find sufficient work in their homeland. Their cousin Beatrice and her husband Eddie have agreed to house them – at some risk to themselves – until the brothers are on their feet. It quickly becomes apparent that the brothers also represent the dichotomy of the two worlds: Marco is very reserved and squirrels away all his money to send home to his family. Rodolpho is more boisterous and eager to experience all that America has to offer. Michiels shows what a gentle giant Marco is. He wouldn’t hurt a fly… unless his family is threatened. Marco is a very subtle character. He knows how beholden he is, so his feelings can only be shown in passing facial expressions and small actions not noticed by the other characters on stage for much of the show. I found myself looking at Michiels quite a bit as a sort of barometer for the emotion of the scene and he is always on, his face showing what his character cannot express in words.
We know from nearly our first meeting with Rodolpho that is he very different from his brother. Cimo makes Rodolpho much louder than his brother, but with different subtleties. He kindles a romance with Beatrice and Eddie’s adoptive daughter Catherine (Maggie Choumbakos Grindrod), and yet at the same time Cimo gives Rodolpho just that right amount of panache, so different from all the other men working the docks, that Eddie’s assertions about his sexuality don’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Rodolpho must show interest in Catherine, but also raise qualms that his love for Catherine may be nothing more than a ploy for a green card. Cimo expertly manages to convince the audience at one point or another of all of these things.
Scott Rollins brings the necessary tender-heartedness to the role of Eddie Carbone in equal measure with jealousy and cruelty, all crucial components to the character. The audience must be able to sympathize with Eddie in some small way for Miller’s point to be made. We are disgusted with his treachery and pride, but like Alfieri, saddened at his ultimate fate.
Lynn Rollins gives Beatrice a no-nonsense wisdom balanced with a patience and understanding never to be expected from a woman in her position. Beatrice senses that of Eddie’s interest in her niece is inappropriate, and the audience never gets the sense that she is in denial. She’s simply hoping things will work themselves out. It would be an easy choice to play Beatrice as jealous and even a touch angry in her confrontation with her niece Catherine, but Mrs. Rollins gives Beatrice that wisdom to maintain her composure and not get too emotional — the wisdom to tell Catherine how it is without placing blame or losing her temper. That show of strength was a perfect choice for Beatrice.
Catherine, like Alfieri, is an example of the “bridging” of the two cultures. She’s not nearly such an outsider as Alfieri, but she has a clear desire to be modern and independent. Grindrod’s portrayal of Catherine is a perfect mix of sweet little traditional Sicilian girl and feisty modern American woman. Catherine seeks Eddie’s love and approval, but will not sacrifice her independence or her romantic interest, Rodolpho, as ransom to obtain them.
The thrust stage at LTVB can be either a blessing or a curse. In this case it proved to the be former, put to good use by Nic Thornburg’s set design, constructed by Set Coordinator Dennis Lawheed. Two simple walls square off the stage to form the kitchen of Beatrice and Eddies’s apartment, but are rendered as un-plastered and incomplete laths. These abstract partitions make transitions from the interior of the apartment to the street outside more fluid and provide a unique canvas for Mike Hilton’s lighting design. Backlighting through the laths contributes to the open feel of the set, and also casts the appropriate shadows for sunlight through blinds, along with gobos used for that purpose.
Costumes, designed by Mary Lou Mahlman, enhance the dichotomy of the two worlds. The men on the docks are appropriately attired in the drab work clothes one would expect. Beatrice is in dresses typical of a 1950s housewife. Marco and Rodolpho first arrive with little more than the shirts on their backs, which are also naturally very simple. Alfieri’s suit, while not flashy, definitely sets him apart from the rest of the characters. Similar fabric, but in a very different style, much like Alfieri himself. Catherine’s more modern clothing and higher heels are lovely and show she views herself as a more modern woman. Rodolpho’s clothing, a source of criticism from Eddie, also adds to the complexity of his character. The clothing he purchases is just different enough to foster the suspicions of both Eddie and the audience.
Dialect coach Lucia Scarano also deserves special mention. I know of one native born New Yorker in the cast, but you would never know the rest of the ensemble weren’t brought up in a Sicilian neighborhood of Brooklyn. I’m certainly not a trained ear by any means, but the accents sound spot on to this layman.
The caliber of acting is doubtless equally attributable to director Kay Lynn Perry. Such emotions and reactions, even if sincerely felt, would not have shown through from stage without a guide beyond the fourth wall. Perry managed to draw out from her actors the subtleties necessary to make the audience question the characters’ motives, and the gut-wrenching emotions required to make the audience ponder our own morals.
A View from the Bridge challenged the audience in 1956 to ask themselves some difficult questions. For better or worse, those questions are as relevant today as they ever were. How far do you go for family? What is the morality of obeying the law for the wrong reason? Is there some other motive behind the dislike and distrust we sometimes feel for people? LTVB’s production has asked these questions again, proving the timelessness Miller’s work.
A View from the Bridge runs thru April 9 at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach. Fri & Sat @ 8:00pm, Sun @ 2:30pm. Tix: $18 Reg, $15 Seniors, Students, Active Military, $7 Kids 12 and under (although there are themes you may not want to explain to the young ‘uns just yet). Group rates available. Click this link to buy your tickets now, or call (757) 428-9233.