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A View From the Bridge

Originally a one-acter by Arthur Miller that ran briefly on Broadway in 1955, "A View From the Bridge" was reworked into two acts and scored a major triumph in London 40 years later. Miller's adamant refusal to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the reviled willingness of close collaborator Elia Kazan to do the opposite, both contributed to the violently personal intensity of Miller's tale of a Brooklyn longshoreman who betrays his wife's cousins to immigration. His treachery -- and the destructive passion for his niece that drives him to it -- are twin themes of a production eliciting gasps of shock from spellbound SCR auds.

With:
Alfieri - Hal Landon Jr. Eddie - Richard Doyle Louis - Sal Viscuso Mike - Mark Brown Catherine - Daisy Eagan Beatrice - Elizabeth Ruscio Marco - Anthony Cistaro Rodolpho - David Barry Gray Tony, Mr. Lipari, Ensemble - Jay Michael Fraley 1st Immigration Officer - Preston Maybank 2nd Immigration Officer - Darin Singleton Mrs. Lipari - Martha McFarland

Originally a one-acter by Arthur Miller that ran briefly on Broadway in 1955, “A View From the Bridge” was reworked into two acts and scored a major triumph in London 40 years later. Miller’s adamant refusal to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the reviled willingness of close collaborator Elia Kazan to do the opposite, both contributed to the violently personal intensity of Miller’s tale of a Brooklyn longshoreman who betrays his wife’s cousins to immigration. His treachery — and the destructive passion for his niece that drives him to it — are twin themes of a production eliciting gasps of shock from spellbound SCR auds.

Against Ralph Funicello’s set of coal tar- and smoke-covered brick buildings that evoke the smell and taste of Brooklyn’s Red Hook area, and Chris Parry’s varied lighting, illuminating different elements of a man’s inner struggle, Eddie Carbone (Richard Doyle) initially comes off as a regular Joe and relatively contented husband to Beatrice (Elizabeth Ruscio). Eddie’s affection for 17-year-old Catherine (Daisy Eagan), whom he and his wife have raised since the death of her mother, also seems natural, except for Beatrice’s quietly conveyed discomfort and Eddie’s nervous observations about Catherine’s sexuality: “You are walkin’ wavy. … I don’t like the looks they’re giving you.”

Eddie’s barely able to stifle a ravenous sexual desire, and his repressed hunger comes increasingly to the forefront when he takes in Beatrice’s two illegal-immigrant Italian cousins, Rodolpho (David Barry Gray), and his brother, Marco (Anthony Cistaro). Rodolpho is a warmly sensual, joyously outspoken young man who loves to dance and sing “Paper Doll.” Catherine responds to his youthful virility, and Eddie’s jealousy leads him to brand Rodolpho a punk and a user who only wants Catherine to secure his green card.

“The guy ain’t right,” Eddie insists to immigration attorney Alfieri (Hal Landon Jr.), desperately labeling Rodolpho a homosexual; the intuitive Alfieri warns Eddie about “too much love for the niece.” Landon plays the role with tightly efficient authority, although some of his comments unnecessarily italicize and telegraph action.

The key to Eddie is his concept of himself as a good man, one worthy of respect, and he works overtime to hide unacceptable desires from himself. Doyle stunningly catches the duality and complexity of a man ensnared by overwhelming feelings he can’t control. His work compares favorably to Raf Vallone’s full-blooded portrayal of Eddie in Sidney Lumet’s 1961 film version, and Anthony LaPaglia’s brilliant portrait in the 1997 revival (which he’s re-creating in Barry Levinson’s upcoming remake with Scarlett Johansson).

Ruscio matches Doyle as Beatrice, touchingly anxious and devoted — much like Linda Loman in “Death of a Salesman” — and offering an incisive take on the sexually neglected wife battling to preserve her marriage.

The character of Eddie has potential for melodramatic excess, and director Martin Benson sees to it that this tendency is minimized. His tasteful approach is ideal throughout, except for one crucial, defining moment when Eddie aggressively kisses Rodolpho on the lips to brand him gay in the eyes of Catherine. The staging here is cluttered, obscuring the kiss and defusing its electricity.

Eagan, a fine actress and suitably sincere as the object of Eddie’s hammering lust, isn’t ideal casting as Catherine. She lacks individuality, and her charmingly middle-of-the-road personality doesn’t establish muted sexual tension or justify Eddie’s lethal hunger.

Eagan’s girlish innocence is more convincing in scenes with Gray’s expansive, captivating Rodolpho. Magnificently open and totally in touch with his feelings — a fascinating contrast to the closed-off Eddie — Gray’s Rodolpho dominates every time he appears. Marco, Rodolpho’s brother, is another eloquent characterization. Cistaro is so silent at first he’s nearly invisible, and he says nothing while Rodolpho suffers Eddie’s ridicule and abuse. Then, at the end of the first act, he challenges Eddie — until then a brash, physically imposing bully — to slowly pick up a chair by grabbing one leg at the bottom. Eddie can’t do it and Marco, in a breathtaking sequence, holds the chair over his head and reduces Eddie to impotent nothingness. Without a word, Cistaro lets us see a man of implacable resolve and towering pride, the kind of man capable of triggering the show’s tragic climax.

“A View From the Bridge” is sometimes too schematically engineered by Miller to be a common-man equivalent of Greek tragedy, but its flaws fade into insignificance because it offers the trademark quality associated with the author’s “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons” — raw, undiluted power.

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A View From the Bridge

South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage; 507 seats; $56 top

Production: A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in two acts by Arthur Miller. Directed by Martin Benson.

Creative: Sets, Ralph Funicello; costumes, Angela Balogh Calin; lighting, Chris Parry; sound and music, Karl Fredrik Lundeberg; production manager, Jeff Gifford; stage manager, Jamie A. Tucker. Opened and reviewed May 27, 2005; runs through June 26. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast: Alfieri - Hal Landon Jr. Eddie - Richard Doyle Louis - Sal Viscuso Mike - Mark Brown Catherine - Daisy Eagan Beatrice - Elizabeth Ruscio Marco - Anthony Cistaro Rodolpho - David Barry Gray Tony, Mr. Lipari, Ensemble - Jay Michael Fraley 1st Immigration Officer - Preston Maybank 2nd Immigration Officer - Darin Singleton Mrs. Lipari - Martha McFarland

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