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Theater Tue May 13 2014
Longshoreman Eddie Carbone's (Ramon Camin) life is of simple décor. As with most working class sons of first generation immigrants, he wakes up early to chase the work. Some days the work at the docks is plentiful, some days, not so much. But Eddie and his friends and neighbors chase and gently push their way to some kind of an American Dream. After all, they're still better off than the word that comes from their ancestral homeland of Italy, which lies in a heap of destitution and desperation, the world's big "F-U" for being on the wrong side of World War II.
Matters not that his wage earning is catch-as-catch-can, Eddie carries on his grateful prose that his father set sail years before and saved him from the Neapolitan wretchedness that wife Beatrice's (Sandra Marquez) cousins, Rodolpho (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and Marco (Eddie Diaz) are running from when they arrive as illegal immigrants, living with the couple and their orphaned niece Catherine while things shake out for the better.
Marco is the oldest, a broad-bodied man with a wife and children back in Italy whom he misses terribly. But he must make money to send back home to feed and clothe his family, and provide life-sustaining medicine for one of his children. Marco's stay in America must be all work and no play, making his hiding in plain sight — the ultimate weapon the arsenal of illegal aliens — much easier to pull off.
However, there is matter of younger brother Rodolpho, all of 18 years old and filled to the brim with energy and inquisitiveness. He makes no bones of wanting to breathe in America, starting with their Brooklyn hideout. There is no family back in Italy to take care of, he is young and free, and America is a banquet with plenty of food to eat and empty seats just waiting to be filled.
The first entrée in the land of milk and honey is Catherine, the 17-year-old orphaned niece that uncle-in-law Eddie futilely attempts to cloister. Much like Rodolpho, Catherine wants to experience as much as America will offer her, starting with their Brooklyn borough. Aunt Bea is more concerned for Catherine's welfare when alone with Eddie than her commute to the waterfront where a new job and catcalling longshoremen await. Bea warns Catherine to stop sharing "girl-things" with her uncle, keep herself "covered up" — no more walking around in pajamas or full slips — Catherine is not a little girl anymore, and Eddie may be her bellowed caretaker, but he's still a man — one who hasn't shown a lot of interest in sex with Bea, ever since Marco and Rodolpho moved into their apartment and Rodolpho moved in on Catherine.
So enraged at Rodolpho for taking a romantic interest in Catherine, Eddie looks for anyway to discredit him — first by painting him as lazy, then as "just another illegal" looking for a Green Card and a female sucker to make a sham marriage happen, and when that doesn't work and then Eddie goes for the Rodolpho's jugular via his lips — he attempts to out Rodolpho as a homosexual. This act of sexual McCarthyism backfires, and once-timid Marco has had enough; he defends his brother's manhood and honor, and in a quietly wicked way, using a living room chair, demonstrates that the man with questionable manhood is definitely not Rodolpho. The chair demonstration is also Marco's way of throwing down the gauntlet: Yes, we're illegal, yes I desperately need your help to save my family's life back in Italy, but no, I will not let you dishonor my brother nor me in the presence of our people.
Eddie slips further into a despondent rage. He pays visit to Alfieri (a brilliant Mark Ulrich), the community lawyer. Alfieri is a man who sees what dreams and tragedies may become at their inception, but he hasn't lost his accent, and he warns Eddie over and over that the ultimate act of betrayal to his immediate family will be forever unforgivable to their Italian-American community. Alfieri sees and listens, but like a petulant insect abuzz with bad tidings, he knows that what is unsaid, unseen, will be the destruction of Eddie. He warns Eddie of his obsession with Catherine's choice to now marry Rodolpho — what does it say of a married man obsessed with his own niece; why can't he let her go? Eddie's debates with Bea about Catherine and Rodolpho become more belligerent, and Bea is left to believe her husband has fallen in love with Catherine — but maybe not. Eddie's rants and raves seem more about Rodolpho's future plans, and Catherine's future mistakes seem more like Eddie's red herring than primal urge, yet there is an urge in Eddie, and to keep themselves safe, Rodolpho and Marco move upstairs with sympathetic neighbors so Marco can continue to work and both men can live in peace.
But Eddie will have no peace, and Alfieri has not seen the likes of Eddie's rage before, or if he has, he dare not publically speak or let on to Eddie what he really believes about where Eddie's obsession truly lies. One more visit to Alfieri and Eddie is warned not to do the worst thing to Rodolpho and Marco that a member of their community can do — rat them out to the Immigration authorities. The news of the set wedding date for Catherine and Rodolpho seal the fates of all, and soon the authorities swoop in, and Eddie becomes the pariah of the 'hood, having killed Marco's dreams — and perhaps one of his children — as well as those of other illegal Italian immigrants that happened to be on the premises. Wedding dreams go on for Catherine and Rodolpho, released from ICE lockup so he can marry (it's the '50s, and they're white, for the most part). But Marco must return to the impoverished horror of his homeland, and no matter his promise to Alfieri that he will not seek vengeance upon Eddie... well, he lied. Of course he confronts Eddie, and both men pay the ultimate in some form or another, and there is death figuratively and literally, for love. But you have to wonder, the unrequited love of whom?
I have yet to see a less than compelling and brilliant production by Teatro Vista, and this production keeps up the company's streak. A View from the Bridge was written about Italian-American immigrants by Jewish-American writer Arthur Miller, one of the greatest American writers of his time, who never saw an allegory that he didn't take in and spin into gold, as he did with The Crucible and On the Waterfront. The Teatro Vista ensemble takes A View, which struggled for success (Miller rewrote it as a two-act play after it failed as a one-act during its first run in the '50s) and takes it all in, fully utilizing Alfieri's Greek chorus performance, blending Ricardo Gutierrez Bryant's precision-paced direction of the entire ensemble and Ulrich's haunting narration into a fever dream of tragic clarity — are the final fates of Eddie and Marco worse than that of Alfieri, a man who must spend the remainder of his time haunted by the unseemly end of his warnings gone ignored?
Somewhere around three-quarters in, I realized that I had moved to the edge of my seat, not due to the anticipation of what Eddie would do with Alfieri's advice, or how he would betray his family and his whole community, but the why. It was as if I had ben transported back to the '50s, settled into an insular time, terrified to entertain what may have really been Eddie's intent. Leaving the Biograph, I allowed myself to wonder, perhaps Eddie realized what his obsession for Rodolpho's intensions were really about, and that somewhere in the dark crevices of Eddie's desires, where he really faced himself, he could not stick around to watch his real desire take flight. To disconnect from family and community, and even the world itself, would have to be his fate. Alfieri would know this — and attorney-client privilege, spoken or implied, is a double-edged sword for those who inherit its possession.
Teatro Vista performs A View from the Bridge through Sunday, May 18 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20-30.