This 'View From the Bridge' is fine

Arthur Miller's classic family tragedy packs a punch in Open Door's strong production

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Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge must have been quite controversial when it first opened in the mid-1950s. From the moment protagonist Eddie Carbone comes on stage, his sexual attraction to his 18-year-old niece is so obvious it's creepy. Eddie's clearly consumed with a smoldering passion he refuses to recognize or understand. He hides his desires even from himself.

Audiences 50 years ago were not used to seeing such dicey, complicated relationships. The tightly woven story about obsession and betrayal also deals with issues of manliness and justice.

Although some might categorize this work as "second string" Arthur Miller, it's still a profoundly powerful piece. You might expect the play to be hopelessly dated, but with such timely and controversial elements as homophobia and illegal immigrants figuring strongly in the plot, the story feels especially fresh and vivid.

The hypnotic new production of Open Door Repertory Company is tautly directed by Mary Pat Sieck.

Hard-working longshoreman Eddie (David Schultz) and his devoted wife, Beatrice (Eden Novak), a childless blue collar Brooklyn, N.Y. couple, have raised their orphaned niece Catherine (Abbey Borkin) since she was a little girl. Now she's developed into a pretty young woman and wants her freedom.

The plot heats up when a couple of Beatrice's illegal immigrant cousins arrive from Sicily, hoping to find work while quietly hiding out in the Carbones' apartment. Catherine falls in love with Rodolfo (Andrew Yearick), the charming younger brother of the pair.

Eddie's overprotective, jealous instincts immediately kick in. To him, Rodolfo is far from a proper suitor for his Catherine. Eddie is convinced "the guy ain't right." Everything about the young man, from his high voice and blonde hair to his "canary bird" singing of the jazz standard "Paper Doll," aggravates Eddie. He's convinced Rodolfo is gay, that he's a user whose only motive in marrying Catherine is to earn his American citizenship.

"He looks like a chorus girl," Eddie complains. "He sings, he dances, he cooks, he makes dresses." Yearick does well with the role of Rodolfo.

The term "homophobia" had not yet entered public discourse in the 1950s. But Miller addresses the issue by showing how insecure, frustrated Eddie turns to virtual gay bashing rather than face the truth about himself"that he's so hungry for his niece he cannot perform sexually with his wife.

Schultz' portrayal of the Italian-American waterfront worker who ultimately creates his own doom provides a solid center for the production. He effectively conveys both a sense of strength and impotence.

In Miller's plays, even ordinary men harbor potential for explosive, self-inflicted tragedy. And Eddie is one of Miller's most complex characters. He's basically a good guy with some huge flaws, a modern Everyman whose values are still shaped by the old country. His blunt and narrow view from the bridge never quite makes it into the New World.

Miller's not saying we all lust for our nieces. He means anyone can suffer from emotional blindness, from self-destructive impulses. Eddie sacrifices everything without ever understanding why. Thus the challenge for the actor is significant. Eddie is bull-headed and uncouth yet we must be moved by him.

A View From the Bridge is actually a descendent of the blood-and-lust Italian vendetta tradition of grand opera. In fact, in recent years, Miller's melodrama of illicit passion, betrayal and retribution has been turned into an opera by composer William Bolcom.

Novak is strong as Eddie's loving wife Beatrice. The actress quietly conveys the woman's discomfort as she fights her losing battle, patient but helpless. She struggles to preserve her marriage, while feeling sexually neglected and unfulfilled.

Though innocent, niece Catherine isn't clueless. She's flirtatious in a childlike way. Borkin is convincing as a girl in her late teens, grappling with the conflicting pulls of womanhood and familial obligation.

Scott Dunnell serves as a kind of Greek chorus narrator, a Sicilian-born lawyer from whom Eddie seeks advice. Dunnell, a graphic artist, also designed a large number of the striking posters in the lobby that celebrate all previous Open Door productions.

Patrick Denley Stinson plays Marco, a workingman dishonored by a relative.

The Brooklyn accents of the dockside characters are consistent and convincing.

Stevan Saliny designed a vivid set that accommodates the multiple locations of the Carbone apartment and the waterfront streets. Scenic artist Jonathan Franklin, who also plays several bit roles, created a brilliant backdrop mural of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The able ensemble of 11 actors includes Wesley Boyer, Bruce Bradford, Seth Morrell, Teresa Powell and Lance Taylor.

Joyce Greening's costumes seem period perfect. Beatrice, for instance, wears a mid-calf, '50s housedress and apron, with sensible tie shoes and her hair in a bun. Her "look" makes you stop and think how much we've changed. Today such a woman would probably wear jeans and a T-shirt.

Lynn Kirsch is the producer. Paul Kerwin is lighting designer.

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