- OnStage Associate Connecticut Critic
Arthur Miller is a bit of a trickster. His plays are quintessentially mid-century American, such that it’s easy to fall into the trap of framing them in a world that is uninterestingly grounded in realism and historical accuracy.
With a few interesting and heartfelt exceptions, Westport Community Theater’s production of A View From the Bridge (playing through October 1) falls squarely into this trap.
Miller’s plot is deceptively simple: a machismo Brooklyn patriarch’s black-and-white worldview unravels when his immigrant cousins arrive at his doorstep, causing his superficially peaceful domestic sphere to crumble under the weight of bigotry, lust, and betrayal. This somewhat traditional plot structure is, however, undercut by manipulation of time and space via a reminiscent, mysterious narrator. Director John Atkin missed a prime opportunity to wrestle with Miller’s theatrical magic and give his actors the chance to truly play. As is, the traditional 1950s set and costumes (Al Kulcsar and Mary Kulcsar respectively) limit the performers to a relatively standard, one-dimensional interpretation of their world and relationships.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some interesting deviations from this overarching traditionalism. Although Rich Masotti tackles the tragic hero of Eddie Carbone with a predictable male bravado and restless anger, moments of soft humanity occasionally peek through, making room for the audience to sympathize with an outwardly bristling protagonist. Atkin neglects to give the play’s domestic female characters any particular agency -- the preyed-upon niece, Catherine (Deanna Hartog), is portrayed almost entirely as naïve and innocent, despite textual evidence of being manipulative and wise beyond her years – but Beatrice, the family matriarch (Cathy Cordaro), has an undercurrent of nervous insightfulness that occasionally holds its own against Eddie’s aggression.
The pacing of this production is rocky, particularly during the slow family conversations and awkwardly presentational scene transitions (there is a surprising amount of sitting in a play known for its bloody end, and moments of interesting stage business are far and few between). Luckily, when the two cousins burst into the Carbone living room, the production’s energy immediately skyrockets. Kevin Fantarella plays Marco with eerie stoicism, which boils over into action with explosive but believable ferocity. Most engaging of the ensemble, however, is Chris Kozlowski as Rodolpho, the sensitive foil to Eddie’s destructive masculinity. He embodies the blond romantic with a seductive goofiness and joy, but also a visible tension between his outward façade and inward fears, layering his performance with lust, love, anger, and despair – sometimes all at once.
Kozlowski is the closest the production comes to any comic relief – a welcome respite from the play’s sometimes crushingly heavy themes – but also reveals a tonal imbalance that undermines the movement of the production. In the family scenes, Kozlowski seems to be living in a farce, complete with silly eyebrows and bombastic body language, while Masotti and the rest of the family are squarely in the world of melodrama.
Further disrupting any sense of consistent tone is the narrator, Alfieri, through no fault of the performer himself. John Lino Ponzini embodies the ambiguous role with an energy that is both commanding and reassuring, welcoming the audience into a violent and tragic world with surprising heart. It is never clear, however, where Alfieri lives, if he is dictating, observing, or remembering the action of the play. The answer to this dilemma will likely be ambiguous no matter how clear a director’s reading of the play, but this interpretation makes only a vague attempt to engage with the question at all. Alfieri wanders aimlessly sometimes in front of the action of the play, sometimes within it, muddying the movement of time and place.
Perhaps the most interesting choices in this production are set’s subtle deviations from realism. This is most noticeable in the neon-blue backdrop, a stylized rendering of the Brooklyn bridge that looms over the otherwise beige and grey urban landscape. Also of note is the telephone booth, which takes up a solid third of the onstage space and is used only once in act two. It is a pivotal enough moment, complemented by heightened lighting and pacing, that its use feels earned, and gives the audience one of the most emotionally charged moments in the play.
Broadly speaking, there is little about this production of Miller’s classic that feels fresh or exciting. There are some zoomed-in moments, however – Kozlowski’s winks to the audience, Masottii’s tears of pain, a few heightened and surprising stylistic choices – that give the story enough of an edge for the production to feel worthwhile.
Ms. Clearwood is the Literary Associate at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Previous dramaturgy credits include: WSC Avant Bard:The Gospel at Colonus, TAME., Holiday Memories, A Midsummer Night's Dream; Pinky Swear Productions: Lizzie: The Musical; Rorschach Theatre: A Bid to Save the World; Source Festival: Static; Forum Theatre: World Builders; Olney Theatre Center: I and You, The Piano Lesson, The Tempest, Colossal.
Photp: Westport Community Theatre