A Clear View Indeed: A Review of Shattered Globe Theatre’s A View From the Bridge 

Photo by Jeffrey L. Kurysz

Review by Seth Wilson

Arthur Miller’s status as one of the canonical American dramatists has always left me a bit puzzled. His plays have obvious historical value, but his writing lacks the lyricism of Tennessee Williams, the social conscience of Clifford Odets, or the profound humanity of Thornton Wilder. Miller plays always struck me as more museum pieces than vital, living works. After seeing Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of A View From the Bridge, however, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the possibilities of his work onstage. In a muscular staging by director and ensemble member Louis Contey, the cast and creative team find new life in this classic by digging deep into it. 

Though Miller is shelved alongside the capital-R Realists, his plays have little to offer an audience today in the way of social critique. Despite its subject, A View From the Bridge has no meaningful commentary on immigration as a matter of politics, and the play’s attitudes towards gender and sexuality are hopelessly retrograde. In structure and tone, it’s more or less a melodrama. Rather than trying to hammer the work into something it isn’t to make it more contemporary to our moment, however, Contey and the cast meet the play where it is. Staged on a spare, suggestive set in an alley configuration, the play moves quickly and allows the actors to drive the action to thrilling effect.  

What gives Miller’s work its power is its moral clarity. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s always morally right — The Crucible is a well-written play that has aged like milk — but rather that his plays always have a clearly defined moral structure and the dramatic tension derived from watching characters caught when their desire for happiness conflicts with doing the right thing. That quality is never more finely tuned than in this play, likely because it’s Miller’s splenetic rebuke to his former friend Elia Kazan for the latter’s naming of names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As such, A View From the Bridge is a searing indictment of the costs of moral cowardice.

Eddie Carbone, like all Miller protagonists, faces a moral dilemma. He’s in love with his niece, Catherine, whom he has raised since childhood. He seems content to repress these feelings, but the arrival of two of his wife Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and his younger brother Rodolpho, from Italy forces him to confront the problem. The family hides the two men, who entered the country illegally, but Rodolpho and Catherine fall in love. Eddie tries to convince everyone, himself most of all, that Rodolpho is gay and only using Catherine for access to citizenship. He soon realizes, however, that the only way to get rid of the younger man is to rat the brothers out to the immigration police. That decision forms the moral crux of the play. 

This production makes clear from the opening moments that Eddie is in trouble. As he comes home, his niece Catherine comes to greet him. The hug between them lasts a little too long, and he seems to breathe her in a little too deeply. We can tell that this house is neither safe nor happy, and a palpable sense of dread pervades the show. This anxiety, mirroring Eddie’s increasing desperation as he runs out of options and sinks to depths of mania that lead him to disaster, makes the two-hour runtime a taut affair that feels much shorter.

The opening moment is just one of many, large and small, to relish in a uniformly excellent set of performances, the strongest aspect of the production. Scott Aiello brings Eddie to life with an astonishing physicality that makes the man seem like a bundle of raw nerves wrapped in skin. He’s uncomfortable and edgy, constantly shifting and hunched, never at ease anywhere in the world. Early in the play, we learn it’s been three months since Eddie and Beatrice last had sex. Aiello’s rendering of the character suggests this alienation is a result of Eddie’s withdrawal into himself. When we do see him express any physical confidence, it happens through violence. In the hands of a lesser actor, this type of psychological-physical interpretation might become ponderous or showy, but Aiello keeps the action swift and sharp.

In poignant contrast, Isabelle Muthiah and Harrison Weger play the young lovers with a lightness and openness that underscores their connection and separates them from Eddie. In particular, the pair deftly navigate the moment at the top of the second act in which an argument transforms into a love scene. Likewise, Eileen Niccolai’s Beatrice is a study in balance, as her performance at the play’s climax achieves emotional weight without crossing the line into simple melodramatics.

An old saw about remounting classics from the repertory like A View From the Bridge is to say that they won’t change any minds. That isn’t true of Shattered Globe’s work here, however, as it very much did make me rethink my view of Miller’s work. The play doesn’t ask particularly difficult questions as much as it insists on the importance of moral responsibility. But this production does so with such force and such skill that anyone would be well advised to listen.

A View From the Bridge is presented by Shattered Globe Theatre and is now playing at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, until October 21. Performance times vary; check the website at Theatre Wit. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.

Highly Recommended

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *