Once again Ensemble Theatre, the Little Theater That Could, has regally zoomed into the station, a proud and feisty Super Chief. On board is Arthur Miller's 1955 A View From the Bridge (through December 6). This venerable heavy-breather is no Kiss and Tell. It's full of those raw emotional scenes, operatic betrayals, and hellish harangues that send high school lit teachers into paroxysms of ecstatic diagramming on the blackboard.
Miller has always had a penchant for turning a plebeian Joe--salesman, manufacturer, cop, longshoreman--into a pinstriped Oedipus, a brown-bag Orestes, an axle-greasing Ajax.
A View From the Bridge, originally a one-acter, later expanded to two, is Miller's attempt at hothouse tragedy. He wanted to combine the Greek tragedy ideal of fallen heroes with Warner Bros.' "dead end" social dramas of the Depression Thirties. It concerns the downfall of an idealistic longshoreman through his unsanctioned desire for his niece. To make it percolate for '50s audiences, there is murder, McCarthy-like betrayal, and high-flown pronouncements.
Death of a Salesman and The Crucible still resonate because Miller hit on those evergreen themes, the painful rifts and unfulfilled dreams of fathers and sons, along with the repercussions of sexual repression and unfounded accusations. They remain genuine and powerful by dint of their biting authenticity; they are ripped from the playwright's own overpowering moral indignation. With its "colorful" Sicilians and imposed Greek-tragedy trappings, A View From the Bridge is suffused with garlicky histrionics. If it works at all, it does so only on a Playhouse 90 basis. Miller at his best is a spiritual patriarch to his audiences, wringing out guilt, longing, and a feeling of loss at a moral order gone awry.
Lucia Colombi's tip-top direction colors every inflection, gesture, and pause with just the right shade of intensity, passion, and meaning.
On a stage that could barely contain a 1963 Volkswagen, Ensemble offers a full-fledged '50s passion play. Set designer Tim Saukiavicus has created out of a bridgework of skeleton stage flats a full-fledged Brooklyn that evokes a working-class prison of body and mind. Even with its serenading of '50s pop songs (e.g. "Volare"), stereotyped Italian accents, and anachronistic long-haired males, the evening is emotionally right and seems almost hallowed. The cast members are so lambent, they seem to have stepped out of a quattrocento altarpiece. As the evening's Madonna, Tina Guster's hapless niece, Catherine, ends up as the piece's unintentional femme fatale, as she sends Uncle Eddie spiraling down the primrose path to destruction. Her recreation of halting '50s womanhood is not just a performance, it's a revelation.
To describe the rest of the cast, it would be necessary to intone the Litany of the Saints. Among the many noteworthy performances was that of Joseph Bonamico, all the way from the shores of New Philadelphia, as the craggy, testosterone-rich Eddie Carbone; Brian Breth as Rudolpho, the ultimate in romantic suitors; and Nancy Telzerow as the emotionally martyred wife.
A View From The Bridge, through December 6, Ensemble Theatre, 3130 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930.
Twelve Angry Men. Those who survived Miss Bucknell's high school civics class will recall sneaking a baloney sandwich while viewing Sidney Lumet's Twelve Angry Men. It left a lump in the throat to watch Henry Fonda using his laconic decency and piercing baby blues (even in black and white) to beat an unruly fellow jury full of bigots, psychopaths, and wimps into finding an abused minority waif innocent. Live at the Cleveland Play House, without the cinematic expertise and with the racism brought up to date by culturally diverse bigots, it makes for a diverting though somewhat faded artifact. Through December 6. Reviewed November 5.