Big fancy theaters are nice, but there’s a lot to be said for unconventional performance spaces. That’s especially so when a play is staged in the same storied neighborhood where its action takes place. When the production boasts gritty staging and compelling acting, as with the Brave New World Repertory Theatre revival of its own 2018 revival of Arthur Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge, all the sweet spots are hit.
This 1955 play about illegal immigrants isn’t just a rousing good yarn. It reverberates with the present day, probably more than the playwright could have imagined.
Miller gave us a working class Italian-American couple, Eddie Carbone (Richard O’Brien) and his wife Beatrice (Claire Beckman). They’ve raised Beatrice’s niece Catherine (Maggie Horan) through high school graduation on Eddie’s unsteady stevedore wages on the Red Hook, Brooklyn docks.
The new production’s home is the Waterfront Museum, a 1914 wooden barge docked more-or-less permanently, after some peripatetic years, on the Red Hook waterfront.
Just getting to Red Hook can be a challenge for the uninitiated, separated as it is from the rest of Brooklyn by Robert Moses’ neighborhood-slashing roadways. Unless you have a car, you have to take the subway and then a bus. Fairway, Ikea, a famed food-truck colony, and a thriving 21st-century artisanal scene have revitalized parts of the neighborhood after the long decline it suffered following the days of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight and On the Waterfront. Still, nighttime activity stays mostly in isolated pockets even on weekends. To get to the barge you walk to what feels like the end of the world and then across a spooky unlit lot.
The Museum’s nighttime isolation parallels Eddie’s troubled soul and tragic fate. He feels himself growing more and more alone, emotionally estranged from Bea, and losing control over Catherine whom he has always babied. His wounded masculine pride and hidden, inappropriate feelings for his niece combine to spiral him downward when she takes up with a charming young cousin of Bea’s, newly arrived from Italy with his older brother.
While Marco (Kordell Prichard) works hard and keeps his head down, Rodolpho’s (Jacob Dabby) romantic visions threaten to make him a little too careless with the brothers’ undocumented status. “He ain’t right,” Eddie insists, grasping for something to hold against the young man. Eddie complains both to his family and to neighborhood lawyer Alfieri (Joe Gioco), who also serves as an old-fashioned narrator. Alfieri assures Eddie there’s nothing legally he can do to upend the courtship – short of calling the immigration authorities.
Early in Act I, the family dynamic is established when Catherine announces that her school has recommended her for a coveted stenography job. It promises not only a future for her but a significant boost in the family income right now. Though Eddie is adamantly opposed at first, Bea and Catherine eventually prevail upon the overprotective uncle to give his blessing. The gruff proto-Archie Bunker reveals a bit of a soft heart.
That vulnerability is short-lived. Indeed what strikes me as the play’s flaw is the unrelieved stubborn hardening that drives Eddie through the rest of the action to its tragic end. O’Brien’s Eddie squeezes sympathy out of us at first, in part because of the humor that bursts out now and again. But that essence of humanity peters out quickly.
Nonetheless it’s a galvanizing performance, and the rest of the cast brings just as much truthful energy. Beckman is utterly convincing as Bea, who, despite the traditional male-female roles of the time and place, has a smooth but firm grip on her household. Eddie’s recalcitrance makes her emotional devotion to him a little hard to stomach, yet it feels painfully real.
Horan’s Catherine is nearly as convincing, while the stolidity Prichard brings to quiet Marco hides a masculine ego as hard-edged as Eddie’s.
Dabby’s Rodolpho is memorably dynamic and multidimensional, part romantic lead, part sprite. His bravura performance mingles light-hearted optimism with surefooted gravity, achieving a Shakespearean complexity that deepens the story’s meaning – and the production’s effect.
Director Alex Dmitriev makes good use of the homey, occasionally rocking space, situating us on the plain wooden floor right there with the family. Thirty years ago he directed Beckman, then playing Catherine, in another production of this play. The experience inspired the actress to revive this “piece of Brooklyn music” (in her apt words) for a new generation, with Dmitriev again at the helm. That cyclic continuity parallels not only the play’s renewed relevance in today’s ICE age, but the much more positive phenomenon of David Sharp’s preservation and repurposing of the old barge.
Brave New World Repertory Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the Waterfront Museum has been extended by popular demand through October 6. Get tickets online or call 866-811-4111.