Arthur Miller’s direct language in A View from the Bridge is bracing to ears tuned to Seattle Nice. Directed by Braden Abraham and styled as a tragedy, the first act is quite funny. It’s the shorter second act which makes it tragic.
The play is set in the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook Brooklyn in the 1950s. Eddie (Mark Zeisler) is the man of the house and works as a longshoreman unloading ships that dock nearby, when there’s work. Bea (Kirsten Potter) his wife keeps the home up, and he is paying for Catherine (Any Danneker) his deceased sister-in-law’s daughter’s education as a secretary at a vocational school. Catherine is nearly 18 and wants Eddie’s permission to accept her first job offer. She has matured and is ready to leave the nest; Eddie is locked into protecting a young girl that no longer exists. They are anticipating the arrival of two of Bea’s relatives from Italy making their way illegally into the US on one of the cargo ships.
When the two immigrants arrive the house is further stirred up. They are brothers. Marco (Brandon O’Neill) is married with three children at home, one with “problems in his chest.” Tuberculosis in other words. As he works off his debt to the Mafia for getting him into the US he sends all the money he can spare back to his family. His younger brother Rodolpho (Frank Boyd) is not married. Rodolpho says “he has no money to get married, a nice face but no money.” He sings, sews, and, we later learn, also cooks. Marco misses his family and hopes to return in a few years; Rodolpho has nothing back in Sicily to return to and wants to make his life in the US.
As Miller worked on this play for ten years he incorporated a feature of Greek tragedy—a chorus. The chorus is an attorney who works in Red Hook, Alfieri (Leonard Kelly-Young) and who provides the voice of reason and formal systems of justice such as the laws of society.
Is this 1950 or 2015 because you can smell the brewing pot of trouble. Rodolpho and Catherine begin a flirtation. If Rodolpho can marry an American he can get a Green Card (though it is not called that in the play) and the right to remain in America. Eddie, ever alert to any justification to keep young men away from Catherine (because he unconsciously desires her) believes he sees Rodolpho conning his niece. Plus, with Rodolpho singing, sewing, cooking, and being the butt of jokes on the dock, Eddie convinces himself even further that “he’s not right,” perhaps a homosexual though this word nor any of its slang terms is ever used. Just further justification to Eddie to protect his niece using any means he can. His wife and the chorus (Alfieri) warn him there’s nothing he can do except let his niece grow up and make her own decisions. Eddie finds a way to “do something” and in the process violates the Sicilian Code of Honor.
Miller does what all great playwrights do by giving the characters a lot of emotions and situations to explore. He trades in Archetypes which are unconscious trans-personal beliefs and patterns. They are bigger than the person. Here are some of the Archetypes Miller embeds for the main characters and a note on how well the actors met the challenge of representing them.
Eddie—Protector, Man of the House, Husband, Uncle, Breadwinner, Self-Respecting Male. Mark Zeisler alternately has a firm feeling for what he must do in one Archetype and then a lost feeling as the other Archetypes contest the wisdom of the first. Zeisler is an old hand at this because he was in the Tony Award winning 1998 Broadway revival of this play.
Bea—Wife, Aunt, Woman, Host, Female Confidante, Mediator. Kirsten Potter understands that as a Wife she aligns with Eddie, but as an Aunt and Woman she aligns with Catherine. If you saw Potter reflecting and responding to the male cast in Seven Ways to Get There you appreciate her great skill at being sometimes a mirror for the other characters and sometimes a wall.
Catherine—Niece, Uncle’s Little Girl, Older Teen, First Job, First Love. Amy Danneker returns to the Seattle Rep after playing Honey in the outstanding production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In this role Danneker also carries the Center of Attention Archetype as the choices and options of the other characters revolve around her. She has to be full of life and longing for freedom while unconscious that her budding femininity disrupts the cozy dynamic that exists in Eddie’s house. Danneker nails it.
Director Braden Abraham’s ear for pacing and pitch is as sharp as ever. His creative team deliver and gave him a rich palette to compose the play with. Especially worthy of attention are the costumes designed by Rose Pederson which contrast the gritty daily realities of stevedores with the crisp and clean attire of the women. The spectacular set design by Scott Bradley evokes the soaring outer architecture of New York bridges and docks and the overcrowded tenements of the underclass. In the 100th year since Miller’s birth, this is a fitting tribute to the man and his genius.
A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, directed by Braden Abraham. Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission. Seattle Repertory Theatre. Seattle Center, 155 Mercer Street. Fri – Sun @ 7:30 PM, 2 PM weekend matinees. Tickets info at seattlerep.org. Runs Sept 25 through Oct 15.