Stripped raw and utterly lean, the new Melbourne Theatre Company production of A View from the Bridge thrives on the strength of its compelling characters and elegantly spare language, hurtling towards its shocking, yet inevitable climax.
In a bold choice, director Iain Sinclair and designer Christina Smith have set the play in a cavernous black box, eschewing the usual scenic elements that portray the gritty Brooklyn waterfront of the 1950s. Without a physical home to inhabit, it would seem that the claustrophobia of living in cramped conditions might not come through, and yet Sinclair has conjured an ominously oppressive atmosphere.
Focusing on Arthur Miller’s text with laser-like precision, Sinclair revels in the compelling power of the vivid characters, swiftly endearing them to the audience before masterfully ratcheting up the tension. The key to the success of the production is the absolute naturalism of the actors in their roles, the drama’s impact heightened by the sheer believability of each character and of their part in the tragic tale.
With its focus on the perils and politics of illegal immigration, Miller’s 1955 play is instantly relevant today. Volatile Italian American dockworker Eddie Carbone and his devoted wife Beatrice already share their home with niece Catherine, the quarters becoming even more cramped with the arrival of immigrant brothers Marco and Rodolpho. Catherine and Rodolpho’s budding attraction soon brings to light the very worst aspects of Eddie’s nature.
The exacting work of lighting designer Niklas Pajanti is crucial to realising Sinclair’s concept and Smith’s set design. Characters come and go from an inky blackness, chiefly occupying a relatively small central oval of sepia-toned light.
Miller’s conceit of a Greek chorus-like narrator in local lawyer Alfieri is boosted by the man’s ability to see all that occurs without the impedance of walls. The shadowy figures, cleverly dressed by Smith in the same costumes for the entire play, appear exactly as if floating in Alfieri’s memory. In the significant final scene of act one, Sinclair positions the family members like satellites to Eddie as the central moon.
Performed without an interval, the experience of A View from the Bridge is akin to watching a 110-minute movie, and the tension is all the sharper for it.
While lead actor Steve Bastoni enjoys a healthy profile, the decision to cast the play without “stars” is a wise one. Each of the actors here is immaculately cast, and each is totally immersed in their role. With the stage lighting a little dim (yet sufficiently clear), there is a strong emphasis on vocal characterisation and expression. Full credit to voice and dialect coach Anna McCrossin-Owen for the excellent work she has done alongside Sinclair.
In a terrific lead performance, Bastoni manages to bring a likable angle to boorish thug Eddie, even tamping down his not insignificant physical presence to focus on the monster within rather than simply on the intimidation of physical strength. Each of Eddie’s traits and travails are believable in Bastoni’s hands, and his relationships with each of the other characters fairly crackle with chemistry.
Daniela Farinacci is perfectly cast as long suffering wife Beatrice, her petite frame housing a mighty woman who valiantly attempts to be a force of nature against the tide of tragedy. As heightened as the drama becomes, Farinacci’s expertly calibrated performance stays real and altogether believable.
Having already played Catherine at Old Fitz in Sydney, young actress Zoe Terakes is seen at her best in the role. Terakes imbues Catherine with a glowing sense of optimism, successfully showing the burgeoning strain of maintaining this positivity in the face of stiff opposition.
Marco Chiappi may as well have arrived in a time machine from the 1950s such is his authenticity in the role of weary, trepidatious lawyer Alfieri. There is a risk that the narration delivered by Alfieri can seem a little twee, but Chiappi keeps the tone fresh and sincere.
In a highly auspicious Melbourne Theatre Company debut, 2018 WAAPA graduate Andrew Coshan is well at ease alongside his relatively more experienced castmates. Coshan brings out the full colour of lively young Italian Rodolpho, balancing the character’s wide-eyed cheerfulness with an underlying desperation driven by his memories of a difficult past.
Damian Walshe-Howling conveys the utterly serious stakes that have brought Marco to America, also convincingly portraying the intense physical strength of the man.
The opportunity to see an exceptional production of an American classic, A View from the Bridge is highly recommended.
A View from the Bridge plays at The Sumner, Southbank Theatre until 18 April 2019.
Photos: Pia Johnson