ORLANDO — “A View From The Bridge,” the drama by playwright Author Miller that’s now being performed at Mad Cow Theatre, is an unusual mix of Greek Tragedy, domestic drama and strong political commentary. It’s a testament to Miller’s skill as a writer that the play, first written and performed in 1955, deals intelligently with themes that could have been taken right out of today’s headlines. The decades may change, but this play is a sharp reminder that the culture war issues don’t.
That’s particularly true of the play’s political themes, which seem both curiously dated and highly relevant. Set in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in the 1950s, the set at Mad Cow alternates between the docks where the local longshoremen work and the apartment of Eddie Carbone and his wife Beatrice. Anchored by intensely strong performances by Brian Brightman as Eddie and Sara Oliva as Beatrice, the play’s mix of often uncomfortable sexual matters combined with the topical political issues make for a potent combination.
Eddie and Beatrice raised his niece Catherine after her parents died, and she’s now 18, a beautiful young woman, about to embark on her own when she gets offered a secretarial job at a local business. It’s clear from the start that Eddie has strong, perhaps subconscious, sexual feelings for Catherine. He often treats her like she’s still a little girl, giving her strong hugs when he gets home. Catherine is equally devoted to the man who raised her, and it’s no surprise that Beatrice shows a touch of jealousy toward Catherine, and is eager for her to take the secretarial job and move out. Eddie, on the other hand, doesn’t like the location where the job is — too many rough sailors milling around — and wants her to stay in secretarial school.
The Carbones’ lives get disrupted when two relatives from Italy, brothers Marco and Rodolpho, sneak into New York as illegal immigrants, hoping to find work so they can send money to their families back home. Catherine is immediately attracted to the handsome young Rodolpho, but Eddie starts to suspect that he’s only pursuing her to marry an American woman and become a citizen. Eddie explores ways to prevent them from getting married. When it seems like there’s nothing he can do, Eddie contemplates an extreme step: calling immigration to report the two illegal aliens.
That’s the plot: but beneath the surface, there’s a lot more going on.
If you’re familiar with the play and it’s history, you might know that it was written during the McCarthy “Red Scare” anti-Communist decade and makes subtle references to that controversy. Miller started this piece in 1947 as a screenplay called “The Hook,” about corruption in the longshoremen’s union, in collaboration with legendary film director, and Communist, Elia Kazan (who had directed Miller’s Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman.”) That film never got made, but a few years later, Kazan and another former Hollywood Communist, Budd Schulberg, turned the ideas of “The Hook” into the movie “On The Waterfront,” about Terry Malloy, a member of the longshoresman’s union who becomes a hero when he names names. Both Kazan and Schulberg had become friendly witnesses before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, informing on former friends and fellow Communists, something Miller refused to do.
There are subtle references to the issue when Eddie contemplates informing on his two friends for their immigration status; unlike Terry Malloy, in “A View From A Bridge” the informer isn’t a hero, but a complete rat who ruins people’s lives, with tragic results.
Today, few people watching this production will likely recognize the McCarthyism references, but no matter. There are other topics that remain strikingly topical today.
Because Eddie becomes so bitterly jealous of Rodolpho, he needs to justify his fears that the young man is exploiting his niece to gain citizenship, so he convinces himself that Rodolpho is gay. After all, the young man likes to sing, dance, and even fixes Catherine’s dresses — so there you go! But when the local lawyer, Alfieri, cautions him there’s nothing he can legally do to stop the wedding, Eddie starts to focus on the only “fix” left, a call to the Immigration Services.
The play’s references to homophobic stereotypes strike a major cord today, especially as the White House pursues a ban on transgendered soldiers in the Armed Services. Even more potent is the issue of immigrants coming to the U.S. with dreams of a better life, while living in mortal fear of being caught and deported. It fits right in with the nation’s current debate over a federal ban on refugees coming from certain Muslim countries, and the fight over Sanctuary Cities. And Eddie’s appalling decision to stop Rodolpho feels even more tragic if you’ve followed these recent stories in the news about deportations.
There’s also the play’s sexual themes — Beatrice complains that she and Eddie haven’t been intimate for months, and it’s clear that Eddie is highly aroused by Catherine, even though he raised her. It makes Eddie a far more complex, disturbing and emotionally distraught character than he might otherwise have been.
Brightman and Oliva powerfully capture the Carbones’ strained, edgy, and awkward relationship, and Brightman is particularly effective at showing Eddie’s pent up rage. You’re never quite sure if he’s going to explode at any second, and it makes for a raw and tense performance. There’s also fine support from Rachel Comeau as Catherine, Robert Johnston as Rodolpho and Glenn Gover as Alfieri.
It’s a strong play, but it doesn’t feel like a 1950s piece from a time capsule. As the strained relationships in the Carbone household build up, Mad Cow’s production continuously tightens its grip on your emotions, right up to the devastating end.
“A View From The BRidge” is being performed now through April 22 at Mad Cow Theatre at 54 W. Church St. in downtown Orlando. For tickets or more information, call 407-297-8788.