It's hard to know how many of the world's problems would be instantly solved if relatives just stopped visiting each other. The news is replete with stories of in-laws, second cousins, and uncles twice removed who cause violent incidents when their clans get together. Indeed, if everyone just went home and stayed there, we might experience the dawning of a new age of peace, tolerance, lollipops, and roses.
Of course, our theaters would probably shut down if the angst of family drama were wiped off the palette of playwrights. Take Arthur Miller, whose landmark Death of a Salesman in 1949 turned an ordinary everyman with career and family issues into a figure of classically tragic proportions. A few years later, Miller tried to turn the trick again with A View From the Bridge, but the latter work has all the complexity and depth of a harmonica when compared to the symphonic rumblings and crescendos in Salesman. Still, it has its Miller-time moments of crackling dialogue, and a fine cast at the Ensemble Theatre gives it a solidly professional if less than sublime rendering.
Leaving nothing to chance, Miller decided to make the tragic trappings of his play clear from the outset, by introducing a lawyer named Alfieri, who acts as a narrator and one-man Greek chorus. This clunky device is essentially unnecessary and becomes irritating, as Alfieri continually foreshadows the sad denouement; the story itself has enough going on to hold our attention without a Universal Studios tour guide pointing out the approaching alligators. Eddie Carbone is a tough, none-too-deep Brooklyn longshoreman whose Red Hook neighborhood is described as "[New York's] gullet, swallowing the tonnage of the world." Sharing a cramped flat with his wife, Beatrice, and her 17-year-old niece, Catherine, whom they have raised since she was small, Eddie is awaiting the arrival of two distant relatives who are sneaking into the U.S. from the old country, in search of work.
It becomes clear that Eddie is having a hard time adjusting to Catherine's blossoming womanhood, as the teasing and touching that were once an innocent part of their surrogate father/daughter relationship now take on different undertones. Beatrice notices how Eddie is changing, and the stakes grow immensely higher when brothers Marco and Rodolpho show up to share the Carbones' limited living space. Marco (played with simple honesty by John Kolibab) is a soft-spoken, powerful bull of a man, but his younger brother, possessed of curly blondish locks and an impish sense of humor, is a Harlequin novel cover-boy come to life. And it's clear that Rodolpho has his eyes set on the lovely Catherine.
Under the able but predictable direction of Lucia Colombi, the cast keeps the story rolling, but misses some small moments that could have enhanced the production's emotional payoff. In the role of Rodolpho, Giuseppe Diomede is sexy and adorable, an entirely believable Italian stallion, even as he reveals his character's eclectic talents at tailoring, singing, and cooking. Rodolpho's metrosexual package seems entirely foreign, both literally and figuratively, to Eddie, who is given a haunted presence by Joe Bonamico. Eddie's disgust with his illegal-alien boarder peaks when, in a boozy rant, he gives Rodolpho a hate-filled kiss to mock the young man's romantic style. But since Miller's script never imbues Eddie with the depth of motivation seen in Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman, Bonamico's character comes off as a bit too whiny, and his ultimate treachery more like a petulant prank than an act of towering vengeance.
Nancy Telzerow is a frustrated and quietly despairing Beatrice, watching her husband slip away from her as she tries to keep their life lashed together with the threads of her domestic routine. And as Catherine, Magdalyn Donnelly uses subtle shifts in her posture and gestures to reveal her conflicted feelings for Eddie and her burgeoning love for Rodolpho. But in the women's scene together, when they address each other's passions and fears, the beats are too rushed to allow the audience to absorb the significance of their confrontation. And since Alfieri is saddled with Miller's verbal baggage, Bernard Canepari seems less focused handling his narration duties than when he slides into character as a lawyer advising the hot-tempered Eddie.
Much of the realistic interplay among the characters comes a cropper toward the end, when simmering antagonisms morph into overly florid line readings and stilted staging (think of the scene in The Godfather, Part II, when a young Vito Corleone visits an Italian theater, where volume and grand hand gestures were considered de rigueur). As a result, the climactic event lacks the resonance it obviously seeks, and we are left with a tragedy that is at once entirely credible and surprisingly unaffecting.