Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 1999
I officially declare the 1999 Berkshire Theatre Season open with the Town Players production of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge". I declare this so that I can add this production to my list of potential "best shows of the season" when I come to look back in late September and assess what I have seen. Last night, at the full dress rehearsal, as one of an audience of six, I saw real theatre, real acting, and left with real tears in my eyes.
"A View From the Bridge" is the definitive 20th century American tragedy. Tragedy was always clearly defined to me in English class as a story in which the central character had one fatal flaw that led to his/her downfall. And then we had to read "Oedipus Rex" - about a man whose "fatal flaw" was that he killed his father and married his mother without knowing that they were his father and mother when he committed the crimes. And then he felt so sorry for what he had done that he gouged his eyes out and wandered the ancient world blind making his daughters' lives miserable (we had to read "Oedipus at Colonus" too.) And I just didn't get it. Was Oedipus' fatal flaw that no one had ever introduced him to his biological parents? How was that his fault? And didn't he show enough remorse for twenty men after he discovered what he had done?
Meet Eddie Carbone (Brian Plouffe). Eddie works hard as a Brooklyn longshoreman. He's faithful to his wife Beatrice (Gaynor Elaine Till) and has done a great job raising her late sister's daughter, Catherine (Sarah Ruth Sullivan). And now he's agreed to let two of Beatrice's cousins from Italy, Marco (David Fisher) and Rodolpho (Bret Bishoff), stay in their small apartment even though they are illegal immigrants. This is 1955 and Italy is still plunged into economic depression after Word War II. All Marco wants is a chance to earn money to send home to support his wife and children. The young, single Rodolpho has come along to help. Eddie opens his home to them and carefully instructs Beatrice and Catherine to keep their mouths shut about their boarders lest immigration officials catch wind of them.
This story is narrated to us by the family lawyer Alfieri (Leo Fiorini), a man who describes his practice as "entirely unromantic", who gives us his view of the events from under the Brooklyn Bridge.
It is Eddie's goodness, his decency, his work ethic, his love for his wife and niece, and his pride in the modest life he has acheived that are his fatal flaws. He loves too much, works too much, gives too much. And he never, ever shows remorse for those flaws, even when they lead to death and disaster.
This is a powerful, demanding story and an "amateur" production of it could be an unmitigated disaster. Which just goes to show that equity cards, prestige, and dollars thrown in to snazzy sets, lights and high-salaried performers and directors are not what make a production "professional". Director Ed Dignum has hit the nail on the head with this one. And the set (by the great Robert Boland) and lights (by Marc Grimshaw) are pretty darned snazzy too, no matter what they cost.
The whole of the central core cast give excellent performances, but the laurels must go to Plouffe for creating an Eddie who is absolutely real - a regular guy, the kind you could meet in any bar in any town in America. A regular, decent family man who only wants what is right and what is due to him. Which makes what he does so aboslutely tragic.
Alfieri's closing speech sums up Edie Carbone in this manner: "...the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was...I tremble, for I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory - not purely good, but himself purely. for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients."
"A View From the Bridge" presented by the Town Players of Pittsfield runs May 14, 15, 21 & 22 at 8:00 PM in the Robert Boland Theatre at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. The show runs about two hours with one intermission, and would be disturbing and confusing to children under 12. Call 413-443-9279 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999