Arthur Miller’s reputation rested on his ability to dramatically elevate the experiences of the common man to the level of classical drama. Mad Horse Theatre has opened its new season with one of the playwright’s best efforts in this regard.
“A View from the Bridge” premiered in its present form in 1956 and has consistently drawn crowds whenever it has been revived. Mad Horse initially presented the play in the early 1990s. This is the first time in the company’s history that a play has received a second production. It is certainly a worthy choice and the folks in their little black box theater in South Portland have put together a very powerful production under the direction of Christopher Price.
It is fascinating to watch this play unfold, so full is it with ideas and themes resonant then and now. But it is also difficult to endure what we see. You may sometimes want to turn away from the intensity of the play, but this fine production demands that you stick with it to its shattering end.
The play concerns the Carbones, a first-generation Italian-American family who live in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1950s. The hulking longshoreman Eddie heads the household which also includes his wife Beatrice and her sister’s 17 year-old daughter Catherine, who has lived with them since childhood. Eddie has a close relationship with Catherine that, now that she’s moving toward adulthood, is starting to look more and more inappropriate, particularly to the sexually neglected Beatrice.
When Catherine gets a job and later a beau, one of two illegal immigrants who are temporarily living with the Carbones, Eddie becomes increasingly agitated. Everybody tries unsuccessfully to reason with Eddie to let Catherine go. As an audience member, you might even be tempted to rise up and try to shake some sense into him yourself, so impenetrable does he seem in his thinking.
William McDonough, III, takes the lead role and forcefully embodies the single-mindedness of a character who is never able to acknowledge the impossible and potentially destructive path he is on. McDonough is excellent at establishing the web of motivations, couched in old-world language of honor and respect as well as stateside practicality, that Eddie employs. We foresee the coming explosion in Eddie, even as we feel some sympathy for him in his flawed hopes for his family.
Hot off a lead role in Fenix Theatre’s “As You Like It,” Kat Moraros plays Catherine with that sense of disbelief that the father figure she loves can’t/won’t let her go. Moraros touchingly conveys her character’s distress as she gradually pulls away from the ties of her youth to an adulthood containing both joy and sadness.
Christine Louise Marshall’s Beatrice has seen what’s going on but can’t make it stop. She affectingly lectures her niece that she has misunderstood the change in her relationship with Eddie. Her pleadings with Eddie show a love that carries on despite diminishing returns from her hell-bent spouse. Marshall makes you feel her anguish.
Burke Brimmer and Nate Speckman play the immigrants who discover that, while there is work for them in America, there is also a culture that differs in some important ways from the one they left behind. Speckman gets more lines as he romances Catherine and fends off the desperate Eddie. His take on an Italian accent takes a minute to adjust to but he was fine at showing how his character’s wonder and optimism could easily win over the essentially sunny young woman he woos. Brimmer quietly works his character into the other half of a fateful equation.
A controversial character over the years since the play originally premiered has been Alfieri, the lawyer who takes a role in the play but also addresses the audience in a sort of Greek Chorus narration to the tragedy he is witnessing. Though it can be argued that it’s a gratuitous role, it’s hard to not welcome its presence in this production when it is filled so well by Brent Askari. An actor known for tough-guy roles, Askari here is excellent in communicating the wrenching inevitability of the story and its lessons. His lawyerly imparting of advice to Eddie movingly confirms how lost Eddie has become.
Five small parts are also ably filled by Christopher Hoffman, Robbie Harrison, David Branch, Sean St. Louis-Farrelly and Max Aronson.
Director Price has moved the action around just enough to take full advantage of the intimate theater experience offered by the small performance space. Stacey Koloski’s minimal set, well-lit by Corey Anderson, along with other technical details also help to make this outstanding production of a major play one that is likely to linger in the memories of all who see it.
What: “A View from the Bridge” by Mad Horse Theatre
Where: 24 Mosher St, So. Portland
Reviewed: Sunday, October 5 (matinee); continues through October 19
Tickets: $15-$20 (Thursdays are pay-what-you-can)
Contact: 207-747-4148: madhorse.com