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A View From the Bridge

A riveting production brings a disturbing play to life

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2011:10:16 16:48:13

Marc Horowitz strikes sparks with Stacy Downs.

A View From the Bridge

By Arthur Miller

At Performance Workshop Theatre Through Nov. 6

It’s clear from the outset that this production of Arthur Miller’s famous tale is going to invoke some squeamish feelings. Catherine (Stacy Downs) flutters onstage in a clean new skirt and top, the hem just grazing her knees, her stocking-ed calves ending in classic black shoes with a two-inch heel. Her fresh young face smiles as she asks Eddie (Marc Horwitz, also the co-artistic director) what he thinks of her new outfit; his face reveals a mixture of admiration, lust, and worry.

Eddie is Catherine’s uncle, you see, and for all intents her father. He and his wife Beatrice (Katherine Lyons) took her in at a young age when Catherine’s mother—Beatrice’s sister—died. (Her father is never mentioned.) And so she’s been raised by her aunt and uncle, whom she nonetheless addresses by first name. And now that she’s 18, her girlish love for Eddie is creating a confusing turmoil of emotions for everyone involved, including the audience.

Eddie and Catherine’s relationship sits at the eye of a swirling storm of drama. The family lives in a modest apartment in a poor Italian neighborhood in 1950s Brooklyn, where the men work on the docks and the women do their best to keep the coffee fresh and meals hot. Life is even harder in Italy, and undocumented immigrants often seek shelter with relatives in the neighborhood, struggling to evade the knowing eye of Immigration. When we first meet Eddie and his family, they are awaiting the arrival of two of Beatrice’s cousins, whom they’ve never met, and who plan to stay with the family for a few months while they find work and send money home.

As soon as the cousins arrive, what’s coming is clear. Marco (Michael Donlan) is a beefy, kind man with less than perfect English and a wife and three young children back in Italy. The other, his brother Rodolpho (Christopher Kinslow), is lanky, blond, with stars in his eyes—and just about Catherine’s age.

A View From the Bridge, then, is classic Arthur Miller, a story of a working family man and the kinds of drama that surround such a life. And there is a lot of drama in this production.

Catherine, who’s spent much of her life inside Eddie’s home, begins exploring the city with Rodolpho, and soon marriage is on the table. Eddie will have none of it, and grasps at reasons for his protest—that Rodolpho simply wants Catherine for a passport, that “the kid ain’t right” (read: gay)—in an attempt to prevent admitting that his feelings for his niece have become something short of platonic.

By the end of the first half, the tension coats the walls of Eddie’s home, and the only thing left to guess is who will become the victim of the inevitable violence.

Performance Workshop Theatre is a longstanding professional company, and the caliber of its actors among the best in Baltimore. Miller’s characters are as complex and three-dimensional as the members of the audience, with nuanced emotions and muddled motivations. And when a cast plays them well, as it does here, they seem, simply, real.

Though the actors are uniformly strong, Lyons and Horwitz stand out for their depth. Beatrice has every reason to hate Eddie: In his desperation to hang on to the little girl Catherine was, he’s falling in love with the woman she’s becoming, and neglecting his wife much as he would if he were having an affair. He snaps at her, ignores her, and denies her affection, while she continues to decorate the house for Christmas and cook dinner every night. But a submissive woman she is not, and Lyons, with a clear beauty and quiet strength, perfectly embodies Beatrice’s frustration as she attempts to do what’s best for her niece, her marriage, and herself.

Eddie is a character as complicated as they come, and Horwitz brings his obvious passion and extensive experience to fruition in the role. Now he’s kind, warm, and fatherly; now he’s stumbling drunk and angry; now he’s sobbing in the office of a sympathetic lawyer (Michael Salconi, also our talented narrator).

Credit is due to co-director Marlyn G. Robinson and her set, lighting, sound, and costume designers. The production takes place in Eddie’s living room and the surrounding space; the room feels warm and homey, the costumes time- and locale-appropriate, and the props simple and accurate. It all adds to that feeling of immersion for which every production should strive, everything integrated so seamlessly as to lose its own identity and simply become part of the whole.

Baltimore is full of DIY, experimental, and new theater, and the city is better for it. But classic theater is still relevant, entertaining, and important, and Performance Workshop Theatre’s take on A View From the Bridge is an excellent reminder why.

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