Theater Review: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica)

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by Tony Frankel on September 3, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Ruskin Group Theatre‘s season-opener, a landmark drama from 1955, exploded into relevance last Friday night. A rarity worth a return, Arthur Miller’s drama of an inevitable domestic tragedy focuses on the family and the neighborhood in which they live. The strengths are compassion for the characters; a plot that’s both relentless and timeless; and the heartfelt truth that all sins are social. With Paul Ruddy‘s impeccable casting, the small stage fills to bursting with a plot where every achingly unavoidable twist seems foretold.

Jesse Janzen and Ray Abruzzo

What stands out in 2023 about this primal script is how much Miller anticipates today’s xenophobic anti-immigrant witch hunts — rancor that splits families as much as nations. As in The Crucible and All My Sons (which Ruskin nailed back in 2010), no playwright connects the personal and the public so powerfully, whether fusing the sexual repression of teenage girls to homicidal hysteria or cost-cutting corruption to a son’s suicide. It takes a village.

Aurora Leonard, Ray Abruzzo

Concentrated into set designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s tight and austerely decorated playing area is a convincing cross-section of a post-war Brooklyn. Looming outside is the borough impassively witnessing this modern Greek tragedy take its persistent toll. The walls of the family home are disintegrating wood slats minus the lath and plaster as if to say the neighborhood is also watching what transpires. (Although it seemed that the family home should have been front and center, not far stage left where much of the action takes place.)

Ray Abruzzo, Kim Chase, Aurora Leonard

From the stark start of A View from the Bridge, Sal Viscuso turns the lawyer Alfieri, our worldly-wise narrator, into a moral anchor amid this real-life soap opera. He is our Greek Chorus which warns there is tragedy ahead, but there is nothing to stop the trajectory. It may seem to some that Miller doesn’t need the narration; it feels old-fashioned, especially given how strong the scenes are between the lawyer and the much-flawed Eddie Carbone (a top-notch excellently cast Ray Abruzzo), a long-established resident and long-shore worker. A self-proclaimed embodiment of tradition, this icon of respectability is also filled with an implacable self-ignorance. By his awful, chosen end, Eddie has put himself beyond the pale. To Alfieri’s grudging astonishment, Eddie reveals himself completely and fatally to his incensed fellow-citizens, an instant pariah incarnating shame and betrayal.

Ray Abruzzo, Brandon Lill, Aurora Leonard, Jesse Janzen

What precedes under Mike Reilly‘s focused direction is a very slow car crash seen from all sides. Miller’s taut and driven script leaves us helpless to intervene as it tailspins to disaster. Its power lies in the specificity of its story, a rootedness that paradoxically takes the tale “out of time” (which explains Alfieri as Greek Chorus): We know it will be repeated again and again in other homes and periods.

The conflict couldn’t be clearer or uglier. Childless and lonely, Eddie has ceased sex with his all-suffering wife Beatrice (a hollowed-soul Kim Chase in costumer Michael Mullen‘s dark, drab dress). Instead he pours his unwanted passion into the predatory protection of his 17-year-old adopted niece Catherine (an incandescent Aurora Leonard). Though he’s paid for her training as a stenographer, Eddie’s incestuous obsession prevents him from letting her see other young people, a virtual entrapment that masquerades as tough love. Innocent beyond her years, Catherine is a proverbial caged bird, ready to fly once she tests her wings.

Jesse Janzen, Kim Chase, Brandon Lill

Everything changes when Beatrice’s two cousins, illegal immigrants, clandestinely arrive, seeking safety in her family’s rock-ribbed hospitality. Determined to send money home to his wife and children, tough Marco (a sympathetic yet strong Jesse Janzen), a former fisherman, is eager for hard work on the waterfront. An exotic Sicilian blonde with the soul of a poet, Marco’s less macho younger brother Rodolpho (a charming and ingratiating Brandon Lill) is popular on the docks, a jokester called “Canary” for his operatic singing. He’s also a good cook. Rodolpho is taken by America — and even more so by Catherine. (Both Janzen and Lill benefit from Dialect & Speech Coach Mary Unruh.)

Jamie Daniels, Ray Abruzzo, Kevin Alain

Rodolpho’s seemingly harmless kindnesses to Catherine incense jealous Eddie. He wants to keep her a dependent “child” and considers Rodolpho “not right” because of his sweet disposition, softer skills, and suspected homosexuality. The collision between Eddie and Rodolpho was fated from the first meeting, with an agonized, enabling Beatrice and a confused Catherine caught in the crossfire and bathed in blood.

Reilly’s 140-minute staging takes its time to spring Miller’s traps, but we are on board all the way. Some scenes are glacially foreboding with a free-floating fear that curdles into crisis — and whatever catharsis comes from this irresistible, unescapable climax brings no closure.

Aaron Marshall and Jesse Janzen

Exploding any crap sentiment about “This above all: to thine own self be true,” “I gotta be me,” and “I did it my way,” Eddie is all that — but for absolutely no redeeming cause. He set himself against life, love and loyalty. Right now that’s a test faced by the entire nation. Miller is right to raise both inner — and outer — demons.

photos by Alex Neher

A View from the Bridge
Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on October 8, 2023
for tickets, call 310.397.3244 or visit Ruskin

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