Beatrice (Vilma Silva) tries to reason with her husband Eddie (Armando Durán) about their niece's future. - Photo by Jenny Graham

A 'Bridge' over troubled waters

Libby Appel returned to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Saturday night with a full-blooded production of Arthur Miller's Everyman tragedy "A View From the Bridge" in the Bowmer Theatre. The final opening of the OSF's 2008 season, it is a stunning revival.

The play is Miller's Americanized take on Greek tragedy. It even has its own chorus in the person of Alfieri (Tony DeBruno), who sets the tragic mode at the outset in a speech to the audience. Alfieri is a lawyer in the 1950s working-class Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Italian immigrants unload the great ships that come into the harbor.

The milieux is powerfully evoked by returning scenic designer William Bloodgood's set. He skipped the obvious theme — a bridge behind the Carbone's apartment interior — in favor of random tenement buildings.

Eddie Carbone (Armando Duran) is a working stiff, a longshoreman who takes pride in providing for his wife, Beatrice (Vilma Silva), and his niece, Catherine (Stephanie Beatriz), the orphaned daughter of Bea's sister.

At first, Eddie has no problem hiding Beatrice's cousins, Marco (David DeSantos) and his brother Rodolpho (Juan Rivera LeBron), who have fled their poverty-stricken village in Italy and come to work on the waterfront. That's how it works in the neighborhood.

But there's trouble under this bridge. Eddie soon has a problem with Rodolpho. He sings, he cooks, he sews, he buys records like the Mills Brothers' "Paper Doll." He is "not right," Eddie says, by which he means gay. The guys on the docks even call him Paper Doll.

But the real problem is that Eddie is illicitly in love with his niece, who has turned into a young woman under his roof, and she and Rodolpho are falling in love. Enter jealousy, which burns ever hotter in Duran's eyes as they become "dark tunnels."

Although Eddie would tar Rodolpho with the tag of Paper Doll, it is in fact he himself who is trying to make Catherine into what that old song describes ("I'm gonna buy a Paper Doll that I can call my own/A doll that other fellows cannot steal").

When Eddie peels an apple with a knife, we think of Chekhov's maxim about a shotgun seen in the first act. Appel's staging is like a runaway train, clacking along, then gathering fearsome momentum as if to testify for Miller's belief that conventional theatrical realism done well can take an audience father out than experimental novelty.

When Eddie asks Alfieri if there isn't something he can do about Rodolpho, Alfieri warns him to "leave it alone." You may as well tell Oedipus to stay away from Old Shepherd.

As always, Miller is deeply concerned with responsibility. Eddie's prideful refusal to see that he is not separate from others — "I do what I do," he proclaims defiantly — torments him. Miller has compassion for Eddie — as do we — because he is struggling with forces he cannot understand or deal with. But he condemns him because he is dishonest. Eddie rationalizes betrayal — the ultimate no-no — by dressing his sin in a phony cloak of morality.

Living in Brooklyn, Miller was struck by the contrast between the "clean and airy span" of the Brooklyn Bridge and the fury of the lives lived below. As jealousy of one man drives Eddie to become a rat, his pride, like that of a Shakespeare hero, will rain destruction on many others.

"I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were," Miller argued in his essay "Tragedy and the Common Man." I believe, without going into that old argument, that Eddie's willingness to lay down his life for his dignity ("I want my name back!"), however off-target, will evoke in audiences the tragic feeling.

Miller's language was always written so as to issue naturally from his characters and their world. The "Bridge" sounds like the everyday speech of 1950s Brooklyn, not unlike people in old newsreels about the Dodgers, although it carries echo of ancient Greece and perhaps even the hot winds of Sicily. The actors generally handle the accents well.

"A View from the Bridge" is one of those rare productions in which all the elements come together, sans gimmicks, to achieve a beautiful whole. Tautly directed and beautifully acted, it is one of the bright spots of the OSF's year.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

Share This Story