Excellent production of ‘A View from the Bridge’ at The Pear
Arthur Miller classic getting a creative and powerful staging

Marjorie Hazeltine, Richard Holman, Geoff Fiorito and April Culver, from left, in “A View from the Bridge” at The Pear Theatre in Mountain View, March 9 through April 2, 2017. (Ray Renati / The Pear)
By JOANNE ENGELHARDT | For The Daily News, in San Jose Mercury News
PUBLISHED: March 15, 2017 at 6:22 pm | UPDATED: March 15, 2017 at 6:27 pm

An extraordinary vision of Arthur Miller’s 1956 classic, “A View from the Bridge,” is yours to see for three more weeks at The Pear Theatre in Mountain View. It’s likely every seat will be filled as soon as word spreads that this is definitely a production not to be missed. It’s that good.

At first glance, director Ray Renati’s decision to give the stage the look of a three-sided boxing ring — with ropes of red, white and blue — seems curious. Ah, but it’s a brilliant stratagem that is perfectly in sync with the cadence of a good prize-fighting match, where timing and execution are everything.

The audience will recognize the chords of an instrumental version of “America the Beautiful” before the play starts. It ends with the Ray Charles recording of the same song — all part of Renati’s grand plan.

Yet despite the patriotic trappings, there is a foreboding, a melancholia from the first words spoken by the narrator (later lawyer), a steady, genuine Brian Levi. It’s as if the characters all are preordained to say and do everything that will transpire in the next two hours. They know it and the audience knows it without even knowing what “it” is.

The narrator points out that this neighborhood, Red Hook, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, is made up of second-generation Italian Americans, many of whom are longshoremen who make their living on the docks and believe strongly in justice. Yes, sometimes they’re willing to “settle for half” measures (meaning letting the law take its course), but sometimes they revert to the old, violent ways of meting out “justice.”

Yet as Eddie Carpone (the astonishingly awesome Geoff Fiorito) walks onstage (climbing efficiently through the boxing ropes), he is the epitome of contentment. He’s greeted by his sweet, red-haired niece, Catherine (an affecting, open-faced April Culver) and by his weary but caring wife, Bea (a heart-tugging Marjorie Hazeltine).

Fiorito brings an electricity with him that hums along at a steady beat, loving both his niece and wife (seemingly in that order) and only begins to show more dangerous sparks after the (illegal) arrival of Bea’s two cousins from Italy. Eddie’s cool with them staying at their home for a while — so long as he doesn’t have to give up his bed — because, as he points out, “they’re family.”

When the cousins arrive, the elder, Marco (a solid, determined Drew Reitz) is grateful for the hospitality and eager to assimilate into the culture, earn as much money as he can to send to his wife and family in Italy and, hopefully, return to his native country in 5 or 6 years. But the younger one, platinum-haired, starry-eyed Rodolpho (believably impractical Anthony Stephens), has a broader vision in mind.

He points out that he’s a singer, having sung (once) at an Italian opera that needed a last-minute replacement. So, he’s an artist at heart, eager to earn money on the docks but only so that he can see all the wonders of America.

It doesn’t take long before the attraction between young Catherine and Rodolpho becomes obvious, even to Eddie, who keeps telling himself and anyone else who’ll listen that “she’s only 17.” When Bea tells him that Catherine and Rodolpho are getting serious, his explosion is more felt than heard. “He’s only looking for a passport,” says Eddie, who turns to the neighborhood lawyer to ask for advice.

Because Rodolpho sings and seems more interested in having fun than earning a living, Ernie tells the lawyer “The guy ain’t right. He cuts up a dress to make into a new dress — he just ain’t right.”

But the knowing lawyer sees that Ernie has far more love for Catherine than an uncle should have for a niece. His advice? “Let her go. Put it out of your mind. Can you do that?”
Eddie is so fixated on his niece that he can’t let her go. As Act 2 begins, the lawyer recalls that Eddie’s eyes “were like tunnels. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

It’s as if a vice is tightening around the man — an invisible vice from which Eddie can’t escape. He is drawn to his destiny as surely as by a serpent’s siren call. By this time all the characters are feeling this uneasiness, as is the audience. Everyone knows something’s about to happen, yet no one knows how to stop it.

As intensity builds, the audience and the cast are drawn toward Eddie, in some ways as tragic a character as any in Greek tragedy. Eddie finds himself surprised and confused by his awakening feelings of lust for Catherine, and the magnitude of his fear of losing her.

Fiorito embodies Eddie completely, making his feelings, his fears his own. It’s rare that an actor can climb under the skin of a play character so nakedly, but he does it.

Yet the others in the cast certainly hold their own: Levi is the embodiment of the knowing, steadfast lawyer; Culver grows into the woman/child who may or may not recognize the sexual hold she has on Eddie; Hazeltine is clearly the nearly forgotten wife who yearns for her husband but also serves as the moral center of this drama.

Norm Beamer is credited for the minimalistic, effective set design, while Will Price’s sound and Meghan Souther’s lighting are both, well, sound. The Pear’s artistic director Diane Tasca selected the costumes which seem right for the late 1940s in Brooklyn, N.Y.

It is productions like this that should make Peninsula audiences feel profound gratitude for the abundance of theatrical talent in the Bay Area and the willingness of small theaters like The Pear to commit to providing such thoughtful, rewarding productions. Long live The Pear.
Email Joanne at joanneengelhardt@comcast.net.
What: “A View from the Bridge”
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Through: April 2
Tickets: $10-35; 650-254-1148 or www.thepear.org

Marjorie Hazeltine, Anthony Stephens, April Culver and Drew Reitz, from left, in “A View from the Bridge” at The Pear Theatre in Mountain View, March 9 through April 2, 2017. (Ray Renati / The Pear)