By Michael Kaufmann
There is something special about the plays of Arthur Miller. Compared to the other great writers of modern theatre, he may lack the eloquence of Tennessee Williams, the existentialism of Samuel Beckett, or the wildness of Edward Albee; but somewhere in Miller’s believable and casual text is a truly striking depiction of people just trying to live their lives with what they have. These aren’t characters drawn from archetypes or deep allegories, they are simply people. There is a beautiful grittiness to the stories that he depicts in his writing. Red Line Production’s A View from the Bridge is a masterful realization of one of Miller’s most real plays. Originally mounted at the Old Fitz and subsequently toured abroad, the Ensemble Theatre provides a perfect home for a night of intelligent theatre.
Like other plays by Miller, A View from the Bridge is about people living alongside the American system. The Carbone family aren’t part of the American community they serve in, they (as part of the overall immigrant community) live around and in spite of it, maintaining a fine balance of working around the law as they need and not drawing attention to themselves. This gives way to tensions as two illegal immigrants seek lodging with their cousin Beatrice, her brutish husband Eddie, and their niece Catherine. As one of the men – Rodolpho – begins a romantic relationship with Catherine, a dark possessiveness and mistrust manifest in Eddie. There is a brilliant prescience in the ideas at play in Miller’s script. As the narrative plays out, the audience is presented with depictions of toxic masculinity, gender roles, xenophobia, and domestic violence; all feeling incredibly timely and powerful, all of this coming from a play written nearly 65 years ago.
The performances of this tight cast are all phenomenal. Anthony Gooley’s portrayal of Eddie’s fall into suspicion, hatred, and violence is nuanced and shatteringly tense. As he unravels, Gooley brings out subtle differences in physicality, shifting from a brute of a man to something altogether more animalistic in nature. By his side, Janine Watson brings poise and empathy to Beatrice (his wife). Although her accent seemed to trip her up in the opening, she made up for it by giving possibly my favourite performance of the night. Her natural back and forth with Eddie slides so realistically from loving banter to desperate pleading, all with a sense of knowing and care. Zoe Terakes brings believability and grit to her portrayal of Catherine as a young woman struggling with the world beyond her adoptive home. As Marco, David Soncin is brooding, strong, and seemingly calm. He and Scott Lee, playing his brother Rodolpho, fill the brothers’ relationship with small nuances, with knowing looks and small nods. Their near-perfect Italian also helps strengthen the bond between them. David Lynch is foreboding and troubled as the Narrator and Lawyer Alfieri. The portrayal of Alfieri also shows the brilliance of Iain Sinclair’s direction, giving him more agency and apparent control of the action as a kind of separate and higher force, and raising questions of power in the world of these poor immigrants.
Sinclair’s direction is detailed and viciously clever. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s simple set of a black wall and a wooden floor bring an instant familial warmth to the drama. The continuous presence of the actors around the stage and on the stairs gives the events a fable-like tone, like a story that has been retold and relieved by all those involved. The Lighting design is intensely naturalistic, opting for clean downlights over traditional proscenium-style lighting, and cold blackouts at key moments. Clemence Williams’ sound design is also brilliantly intelligent and well-executed, bringing out the visceral tension with near-constant low frequencies and realistic sound-scaping. The in-the-round layout of the Ensemble Theatre serves the play incredibly well, providing an intimacy and immediacy that drew the audience to edge of their seat for nearly the entire run-time.
There is a reason that plays like this have survived the test of time. There is a masterful nature to Miller’s play, and this is a production that serves and elevates it brilliantly with all the intelligent direction, moving performances, and effective craft that it deserves. The Ensemble Theatre has yet again proved to be one of the most consistently exciting theatres around with this production.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.