A View from the Bridge
by Arthur Miller
October 27th - November 3rd, 2001
The Tower Theatre Company performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury
In-house review by Richard Pedersen
Richard Pedersen, a Tower member for 12 years, was last seen giving a rendition of a Scottish accent in the Frank Smith Room. He was also Polixenes in The Winter's Tale this year.
The bridge is Brooklyn Bridge and it loomed over the set of Sara Randall's production of Arthur Miller's play. The play is a modern classic and rightfully deserved its sell-out production. I use the term classic intentionally; the overtones of Greek tragedy are everywhere in the play and are hard to miss. Despite being nearly fifty years old there is a timelessness about the themes which transcend period; I have seen far more recent plays which are definitely "dated".
As with all tragedy the audience needs to be aware that it will all end in tears. Strangely enough I was most closely reminded of Willy Russell's musical Blood Brothers, where the audience knows from the start that someone is going to die from the white outline of a body on the stage. The mood evoked by the director and her cast left the audience in no doubt that this was not going to be an easy ride.
Just as the bridge loomed over the set, so Cohn Dent as Eddie Carbone loomed over the action, from almost the first moment when he leaned over the balustrade and was picked out by the spotlight. I suppose it was unfortunate that I knew the play and its denouement, but my companion was able to pick up the clues without knowing how it was going to end. With Cohn Dent's masterful performance you could see the tragic flaws in a man haunted by his incestuous (and dare I say paedophiliac) desire for his niece, whose jealousy is so suddenly provoked by her love for a young illegal immigrant.
As Eddie's wife Beatrice, Despina Sellar had the unenviable task of being downright miserable for most of the play. She was so believable as the fiery, passionate woman brought down by years of being the dutiful spouse in a Sicilian-American household. The ultimate irony: she was an Italian mamma with no children.
Yet there was Catherine, her niece and ward, admirably played by Elizabeth Johansson. She represented the new generation, American born and bred, anxious to get rid of the shackles of the old country's traditions. The actress was a sheer delight to watch as she revelled in high heels, short skirts, pop music and the growing realisation that she was no longer just Eddie's little girl. I was slightly intrigued that the foyer photographs appeared to have her in a black wig, which she had thankfully dispensed with by the time of performance.
Our narrator, of sorts, was the lawyer Alfieri, a solid presence portrayed by Paul Rutledge. He was our friend and confidant; just as Brooklyn Bridge connects Long Island to Manhattan, so he connected the play's action to the audience. It's a very theatrical device but it worked so well.
Then there were the two real Italians, Marco and Rodolpho, "submarines" or illegal immigrants from poverty-stricken postwar Sicily to the land of promise in America. Harry Reeder's Marco was a difficult and rather poorly-written role. His importance is at the end of the play, but until then it seemed that Miller didn't have much idea what to do with him. I felt rather sorry for him in trying to invest his character with some modicum of interest, when all he had to do was look cross or miserable or both, and whinge on about his tubercular children. As the younger brother, the blondhaired Rodolpho, Dominic Ward cleverly managed to portray a person who in Eddie's words "ain't right". As an audience we did wonder about his motives in courting Catherine; was it simply young love, or was it, as Eddie suggested, merely to get an American passport? I still cant make up my mind.
Creating the set required, on the Tower stage, must have been a nightmare, so all credit to Andrew Reeves and Roger Beaumont for managing it so well. My eyes were often fixed on the phone booth, but then I knew its primal significance. The redbrick wall was so convincing that my companion opined that it must have been the back wall of the theatre. Because the Carbone's apartment was treated as a separate acting area, I did feel that it restricted the actors and their scope for movement, and I sympathised with them having to cope with that bane of all directors, a dining table.
Costumes by Helen Dudley were spot-on for location and period. Lighting and sound were effective and faultless.
OK Mr Critic, so what didn't you like about it? If I'm going to be picky I could mention some of the accents which at times sounded a bit more Jackie Mason than Joe Pesci. Definite traces of North London were also distinguishable. I felt some of the blocking towards the end was a bit untidy, and I thought it was a shame that Eddie had his back to me when Marco delivered the arch Sicilian insult of the spit in the face.
The ending of the play is a problem because Miller courts a fine line between realism and melodrama. There were a few suppressed sniggers in the audience and I can understand why. Eddie's knife in the fatal encounter looked pathetically small, hardly capable of delivering a fatal blow to someone of Cohn Dent's build. I also think that the passing Priest was a bit unnecessary. And what about the other two submarines lodging in the attic? Were they cut as characters because of cast constraints? Their absence made the presence of the Liparis a little irrelevant.
'm afraid I was unconvinced by Henry Chester's Immigration Officer; his cheery face wouldn't have frightened a stray cat, let alone two desperate illegal immigrants. I know it's a small part, but I fear he wasn't quite right for the role. Finally, I thought the panto-style curtain call was a bit over the top for a play of this nature. We really didn't need to give separate applause to individual groups of cast. A straightforward line-up would have been much more in keeping with the tone of the play.
Still these are all minor quibbles, some of which may well have been sorted out by the end of the run. All in all, A View From The Bridge was a highly enjoyable production, and the cast and director(s), and all the associated crew, should be rightfully proud.