The Gate Theater has transformed Arthur Miller’s dockside tragedy, “A View From the Bridge,” into a summertime crowdpleaser via the presence of “Law & Order: SVU” star Christopher Meloni, who offers a totally committed, if not entirely convincing, performance as the lustful and tortured Eddie Carbone. Queues for returned tickets — unusual in Dublin theater — are forming nightly in hopes of seeing Meloni in a rare stage appearance: His bio includes only two theater credits, and it seems likely he chose the relative lack of media spotlight in Eire to try on a role this sizable and challenging.
Meloni and an otherwise all-Irish cast work terrifically hard to create a sense of the physical exuberance and emotional claustrophobia in the Carbone household, but Mark Brokaw’s production is marked by an inescapable sense of cultural artificiality. The visible effort accentuates the melodramatic elements of the play, not one of Miller’s greatest.
Eddie is a working-class tragic hero whose Achilles’ heel is his excessive love for his 17-year-old niece, Catherine (Laura Murphy), whom he and wife Beatrice (Cathy Belton) have raised since infancy.
The cogs of the plot are set in motion by the arrival of two of Bea’s cousins from Sicily, who move in with the family and work illegally on the docks. Paul Reid gives a ballsy and eventually very effective perf as the younger cousin, Rodolpho, a handsome clotheshorse who captures Catherine’s heart but raises Eddie’s suspicions that he “ain’t right” — that is, that he is gay and duping Catherine to get a green card.
But it is Eddie who is fooling himself, as his blustering aggression masks his jealousy of Rodolpho for having access to the object of his forbidden desire.
Physically, Meloni works brilliantly in the role: Leonore McDonagh’s chunky costumes and the actor’s own well-observed movement transform him from muscular hunk into lumbering tough guy. He creates a strong outward sense of someone not totally in control of his impulses and desires, which is a central element of the character, as becomes clear in a key scene early in act two: Eddie arrives home to discover Catherine and Rodolpho en flagrante, flies into a confused rage and kisses them both passionately in quick succession.
With daring ambiguity, Miller raises fascinating questions about the connections between homophobia, homoeroticism and violence, but the scene doesn’t quite work here because subtextual currents of emotion and desire have not been effectively established.
Most of the local actors — Reid and Belton being notable exceptions — are obviously struggling with accents and with a more physically expressive style of performance than is the norm in Ireland; the action sometimes dissolves into a lot of shouting and hand-waving.
The production is at its most effective in one-on-one scenes, in which characterization and relationships seem most fully examined and fleshed-out. Belton adds considerable credibility and gravitas as the anguished Bea.
Miller has created a considerable challenge, however, by framing such a psychologically compelling and complex narrative with Brechtian-style narration by the lawyer Alfieri (John Kavanagh), and these passages of narration end up distracting from the core of the story, particularly given Kavanagh’s evident struggle with Brooklynese.
As the action reaches its highest point, so does the audience’s response to full-blown melodrama: Eddie’s central act of betrayal is met with gasps and shocked whispering. Brokaw makes most effective use of Mark Wendland’s two-tier stage — and the relatively large ensemble — in the following scenes leading up to Eddie’s fight with Rodolpho’s cousin Marco (an impressive Aidan Kelly): The two men chase each other up and down staircases, tailed by their anxious family and observed by what feels like a whole neighborhood, before duking it out center stage.
But because the production has not found its way to the emotional heart of the play, the outcome feels overwrought rather than heartbreaking.
Meloni impresses as a stage performer with considerable charisma and dedication, but there are too many obstacles in the way here to fully showcase his talents.