Contemporary American literature classes often mandate the reading of at least one Arthur Miller play. For most, it’s “Death of a Salesman,” the 1949 classic that instigates an investigation into the nature of capitalism and the American man. It’s in this play that we see a man’s ego and his capitalist urge narrowly bound. In the Guthrie’s adaptation of “A View from the Bridge,” we experience other ways a man’s ego might make him go insane. With this beautiful, stalwart presentation, the story moves as swiftly as a barge — even though its protagonist sinks as dramatically as the Titanic.
Before growling too loudly at the seemingly obscure ship metaphor, be aware: The play’s protagonist is Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American working as a longshoreman (played spectacularly by John Carroll Lynch, of “Fargo” fame). With his wife Beatrice (Amy Von Nostrand), the pair adopted their orphaned niece named Catherine (Robyn Rikoon ). The trio lives decently in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn , where hard work is rewarded with blue collar comforts. This atmosphere, with its gritty, hard-won, red-brick setting, imbues the production with a sense of tragedy from its opening scene. The play is often viewed as something of a Greek tragedy, and the dark, humble set subtly iterates that tone.
From the onset of the play, Eddie displays manic and unbalanced behavior. At once angry and jealous, he can easily turn that passion into a subdued approval or appreciation for his adoptive daughter. It’s Catherine, after all, who Eddie lives for, and with his defiant Italian gusto he assures that no one will ever take her from him. It’s here that John Carroll Lynch shines. In mere moments he brings his East Coast parlance and big personality from frightful to friendly. Lynch can play brazen and coy, and he flips between the two painlessly.
But when two of Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and Rodolfo, steal away from impoverished Sicily and take shelter with the Carbones, Eddie’s nerves tighten as his beloved Catherine develops feelings for the flamboyant Rodolfo. Lynch’s character’s temperament explodes at this point; it’s here that we see his ability to draw empathy from the audience, even when his more base intentions are revealed. In this production, love seems only to spawn hate.
The play works nicely as an eye-catching, gut-wrenching drama-fest. It’s the type of story that moves toward an inevitable ending. You feel Brooklyn’s messiness. You sense that egos are going to overpower intellect, and that someone is going to die. And that gut feeling is right.
The play is directed by Ethan McSweeney, who ensures a quick movement and steady cadence. The characters’ actions and intentions are all explicit —there are few veiled intentions or expectations — and the play is stuffed with all the more tension because of it. A production with more subtle motivations would lack the verve that the work currently has. As it is, the production throbs.
Miller enthusiasts will respond positively to this ever-tightening production. In this world of such extreme desperation, viewers alike will be consumed by the tumult.