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In a time when undocumented immigrants are increasingly threatened with deportation and jingoistic hate speech is on the rise, Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge feels less like a 1955 chestnut and more like a piece of contemporary sociopolitical commentary.
Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller) is an Italian-American longshoreman. He lives what appears to be a simple life in Brooklyn, supporting his wife Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) and 17-year-old niece Catherine (Catherine Combs). But the complexities of his character emerge in ugly ways when Beatrice’s two Italian-born cousins Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register) immigrate to America to escape crushing poverty.
Eddie welcomes the men into his home, even though harboring them is risky. In what seems to be a generous act of ethnic and familial loyalty, he gets them work on the docks and gives them seats at his dinner table. But things sour quickly when Catherine and Rodolpho fall in love. Eddie, you see, wants his niece for himself, and as the play progresses his obsession with the girl becomes a source of stomach-turning tension.
It’s easy to see why Ivo van Hove won a 2016 Best Director Tony for this stylized production, which came out of the Young Vic in Britain and is in D.C. after wrapping up its latest run in Los Angeles. There’s no shabby Brooklyn walkup here, nor are there the quaint, naturalistic trappings of a strictly realist, sentimental interpretation. Every element of the production smacks of Greek tragedy and builds toward a relentless interrogation of Eddie’s motives and machinations. Jan Versweyveld’s harsh, unforgiving lighting lays bare all the characters and creates an almost ghostly pallor on the actors’ faces, while An D’Huys’ simple costuming (the actors are in bare feet) and bare-bones scenic design force us into an intimate relationship with this wildly dysfunctional family.
Weller makes Eddie both relatable and repellent, a man prone to speechifying about how hard he works and how much he cares for his family, while he’s secretly sharpening his blade. Both Weller and van Hove handle the ambiguities in Miller’s text well—that Rodolpho only wants to marry Catherine so he can become a citizen has a ring of truth to it. And these ambiguities make it hard not to have some semblance of empathy for Eddie, whose egomania and paranoia become unforgivable by play’s end (because they drive him to take vengeful action) but seem, at times, to be disturbingly on point. Catherine really might be careening toward disaster with Rodolpho, and no one but Eddie cares. But Weller’s choices don’t over-sentimentalize Eddie; the actor is unafraid to show every impulsive, self-serving misstep of Eddie’s for what they are—the unexamined, short-sighted aggressions of a small, greedy man.
And that’s the show’s highlight: The cast has a collective strength that doesn’t suffer any weak links, and it’s especially pleasing to witness the mounting household tension boiling beneath the surface of banal mealtime chit-chat. They mine Miller’s text and subtext for every ounce of dramatic gold.
At the Kennedy Center to Dec. 3. 2700 F St. NW. $45-$149. (202) 467-4600. kennedy-center.org.