Respect. Pride. Honour. What it means to be a man. The man. In the family. In the neighbourhood. In an insulated world where work is scarce and masculinity paramount. Where your name and reputation mean everything. To lose that is to lose everything.
A View From The Bridge follows last year’s WAAPA production of another Arthur Miller play, All My Sons. The depth of insight in Miller’s writing about the male condition is exemplary and in the character of Eddie finds a subject who is undone by his own misconceptions and anxieties about his responsibilities as a man. It is a tragedy of Eddie’s own making which heightens the devastating conclusion.
The setting is a waterfront neighbourhood of early 50s Brooklyn. Longshoreman Eddie (Giuseppe Rotondella) works on the docks and lives in an apartment with his wife Beatrice (Elle Mickel) and beautiful 17 year old niece Catherine (Brittany Santariga). He is overly protective of “Catie” and reluctantly acquiesces to allow her to take a job as a stenographer at a plumbing company.
When two brothers, Marco (Joel Davies) and Rodolpho (Rory O’Keeffe) are taken in by Eddie after being smuggled into the US by ship from an impoverished Italy, fractures begin to appear. Catie falls for the charming Rodolpho which so disturbs Eddie that he seeks the advice of lawyer Alfieri (Lachlan Ruffy). He claims “something ain’t right” about the blonde Italian who sings, helps Catie make a dress, wants to visit Broadway, and shows other ‘effeminate’ traits. Eddie thinks Rodolpho is on the scam so he can stay in the country and become a citizen but deeper, more troubling reasons emerge as to the true source of Eddie’s anxiety.
He begins to persecute Rodolpho which alienates his wife, his niece, and brings him into conflict with Marco. Eddie escalates matters out of his control when Catie is determined to marry Rodolpho. The result of his unthinkable betrayal so incenses Marco that the two men are bound together by the strictures of disputed honour on a destructive trajectory neither can abandon. Like All My Sons, the play slowly simmers and ratchets up the tension until it all explodes in a powerhouse finale.
Rotondella as Eddie gives one of the finest performances I have seen at WAAPA in the last few years. There are so many layers revealed from the forthright, cocksure man’s man who is confident in his position and status to the slow unravelling of that certainty as Eddie’s pre-eminence is questioned by all around him. The sense of discomfort he displays as Eddie tries to vocalise his disgust of Rodolpho to Alfieri – clutching his hat so tightly he almost mangles it as he rotates the brim over and over. The sheer anguish he bellows as Eddie is bent over double at the realisation of what he has done and its horrible ramifications. There is a calculated moment of machismo as he teaches Rodolpho to box, putting the young Italian in his place with sharp authority and a gleam in the eye. This is matched by the dismay Rotondella allows Eddie as Marco silently threatens him with a true display of strength. Then there’s the ending where the actor cuts loose with all the pent up bile and anger of self-loathing, masked in the name of reclaiming respect. From start to finish it is a riveting performance.
It is followed very closely by Santariga as Catherine, playing a 17 year old on the cusp of womanhood. She inhabits Catie with an innocence that belies her beauty as the young girl is unaware of the impact of how she dresses and behaves around the men in the neighbourhood. Santariga exhibits a girlish enthusiasm as she scampers around the apartment keen to please her Uncle and Aunty while pouting at setbacks and pleading for her independence. The immediate infatuation she shows with Rodolpho is nicely portrayed as is the growing strength as the young girl matures into a woman with marriage on the horizon and the need to find her own way. The complex relationship with Eddie is handled with assurance as is the exuberance of first love with Rodolpho.
O’Keeffe plays Rodolpho with a joyous disregard of the judgements swirling around about the character’s sexuality and motives. His suitor is charming and an idealist which is a nice counterpoint to the hardnosed realism of the docks. It’s an engaging portrayal. By comparison the powerfully built Davies is almost a silence presence, his Marco slow to talk and to act but when he does it is with notable brutishness.
Mickel portrays Eddie’s wife as a pragmatist and voice of reason within the household. Her Beatrice effectively stands up to Eddie and gives Catie maternal advice which becomes more insistent as the true nature of the situation dawns on the character. Exhibiting a fine comic sensibility in previous WAAPA productions, it was refreshing to see Mickel tackle a dramatic role which she imbued with moments of humour and humanity. Finally, of the principal cast, Ruffy plays Alfieri who is both lawyer and narrator. He adds style - at one point in top and tails - and a lovely singing voice as he croons Paper Doll which becomes increasingly manic to reflect the shifting dynamics of certain relationships on the stage below him.
The set itself was quite sparse with a small kitchen table and chairs in the middle; a large backdrop with a circular cut-out that was lit with different colours and used for actors to pose in silhouette; and a feature I didn’t like – Eddie’s chair on the edge of the thrust facing away from the audience. This meant for a section of the viewers, key moments were unseen with Rotondella’s back to them. The lighting was also a little hit and miss – the silhouettes were effective but too many times scenes were lit with actors in partial shadow or dimness.
These are minor quibbles as this is a fine dramatic production with excellent performances that builds to a compelling conclusion. Directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait, A View From The Bridge is on at The Roundhouse Theatre until 5 May.