March 18, 2017 Tony Urgo | Theatrius

Arthur Miller’s Italian Immigrant Drama Still Meaningful Today
by Tony Urgo

Arthur Miller’s “A View From The Bridge,” first performed in 1956, is now over 60 years old. The cultural tragedy is that its themes of illegal immigration and social intolerance have returned. These themes resonate strongly in Pear Theatre’s production, but the heart and soul of the story belong to the superb ensemble cast, which brings the characters vividly to life.

Director Ray Renati has infused the production with a naturalism that preserves its setting and tone in 1950s Brooklyn. Renati choreographs the actors to suggest the unseen beyond the minimal set: a home, a family, a town, and a culture that reflect the present and the past. The Brooklyn docks are evoked early on, when two men converse at a corner of the stage under a narrow light. You can almost see the gangways and crates behind them, and the hulking shadow of a freighter.

Of Italian heritage, Eddie Carbone (Geoff Fiorito) follows the cultural tradition of helping his fellow countrymen get a foothold in America, taking them into his home when they arrive illegally from Italy to find work as fellow dockworkers. Some will stay, seeking citizenship; others will return to Italy, having made enough money to improve their lives. The new arrivals— young, exuberant Rodolpho (Anthony Stephens) and older, quieter Marco (Drew Reitz)—are grateful to the Carbones for their generosity and support. Eddie and his wife Beatrice (Marjorie Hazeltine) welcome them, put them at ease. Eddie and Beatrice advise the immigrants to work hard and keep a low profile and things will work out. Unfortunately, the illegal immigrants run up against an unexpected force in Eddie Carbone, their benefactor.

Although Beatrice embraces her daughter’s first love for the optimistic, and flamboyant Rodolpho, Eddie sees this development as a burgeoning nightmare. At first this appears at odds with all that Eddie is doing for these men, but he grows jealous of Rodolfo and the warmth of welcome dissipates. Arthur Miller has written such a rich and complete character in Eddie, who can be generous and loving, but also selfish and hateful—and Fiorito does justice to the great role. We understand Eddie and cannot hate him, though he does hateful things. Fiorito gives us an Eddie who expresses great warmth, and falls into deep darkness.

The entire cast is remarkable for their effective and affecting portrayals. Catherine (April Culver), the daughter on the cusp of her adult life, is convincingly swept off her feet by her new love. Though naïve and optimistic, she is also self-aware and more than capable of defending her Rodolfo. Her internal conflict and dilemma becomes palpable when she defies Eddie, to whom she tries to remain loyal.

Marjorie Hazeltine deftly balances her Beatrice between the dutiful wife and mother in the practical working class family. When she needs to get through to Eddie or Catherine, she reveals a startling depth of insight and wisdom at pivotal moments.

Playwright Miller uses Alfieri (Brian Levi), an immigration lawyer and family friend, as the narrator, acting as a Greek chorus. Alfieri tries to help the Carbones with his forthright counsel. Levi portrays Alfieri as strong, confident, and sympathetic.

As Marco and Rodolfo, Drew Reitz and Anthony Stephens deliver outstanding performances as the outsiders. as the older, maturer Marco and the younger, free-spirited Rodolpho. Reitz wears Marco’s solidity and quietness with an assured centeredness; while Stephens makes Rodolpho’s exuberance shine.

Eddie’s buddy Louis (Anthony Silk) and an immigration officer (Rich Holman) are both evocative and familiar. Through them, we see the greater world of Brooklyn, the shipyards, the country.

Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” is ultimately a tragedy. The remarkable ensemble cast, working on a spare stage at Pear Theatre’s intimate 99-seat space, transforms the play into a plea for understanding immigration in the U.S. The cast brings the Carbone family and the people who enter their lives into our lives, today— and into our hearts.

“A View From The Bridge” by Arthur Miller, directed by Ray Renati, at The Pear Theatre, Mountain View, through Sunday, April 2, 2017. Info: thepear.org