An immigrant’s song

Apr 21, 2004 at 12:00 am

Eddie Carbone has a couple of problems. This bellicose dockworker from Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a paranoid latent homosexual in love with his niece. His wife, supportive and loving and forgiving of his “eccentricities,” is not getting what she wants in the bedroom. He’s a small-minded bigot, forever fearful of what his neighbors will say about him and those with whom he associates. He’s distrustful, emotionally immature and ready to kick the living crap out of anyone who disagrees with him. Afraid of change, insecure in his manhood, always looking out for number one, this Sicilian immigrant knows how things should be and how they shouldn’t be. Despite the saintly, forgiving adoration of his family, he recklessly barrels on, forever testing their devotion and love for him. He’s a blowhard who won’t listen to reason, no matter who it hurts. This is Eddie Carbone. A guy with a couple of problems. And with one seemingly altruistic gesture, Eddie’s world is going to explode.

Arthur Miller, the man behind the more notable and recognizable American theater classics Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, created Eddie Carbone back in the 1950s to anchor his skewering and none-too-subtle dissection of American hypocrisy and violence, A View From The Bridge. The rather simple tale of a man ripped apart by his own prejudices and simmering depravities, set against the backdrop of the working-class “melting pot” of Brooklyn, N.Y., must have really given Miller’s critics something to chew on. Miller fought accusations of anti-Americanism and Communist sympathizing in the days when this play premiered, insinuations that are still bandied about today. In Eddie, Miller took all those things he thought were wrong about America and wrapped them in a brusque but seemingly harmless “average Joe” — a guy you could toss a few beers back with, a guy who’d give you the shirt right off his back.

But scratch Eddie’s skin just a little bit, throw a couple of wrenches in his vision of what the good life should be and watch the ugliness and consequences spill forth with all the foregone conclusion of classic Greek tragedy. Eddie Carbone is gonna die for our sins.

Eddie Carbone (Dan Zelazny) lives with his dutiful and loyal wife Beatrice (Lydia A. White) in a small apartment in the slums of Red Hook, within sight of the Brooklyn Bridge and teeming crowds of immigrants, legal and otherwise. Eddie and Beatrice care for the daughter of Beatrice’s dead sister, treating her as their very own since she was a small child. Catherine (Christa Coulter) is a beautiful young girl, no longer the child that Eddie fed and clothed and doted on. She’s wearing high heels, sporting a sexy skirt, and bouncing around the apartment with the exuberance and budding sexuality of someone not quite an adult, but forever not a child. Eddie is not happy with this evolution, and his barbs and zingers hurt and confuse her. She loves her uncle, but — as we will soon find out — not as much as he loves her. Read: She’s his, every square inch of her, and no mook from the hood is going to take her away.

Enter Rodolpho (Scott MacDonald) and Marco (J. Michael Zois), two brothers from Sicily, cousins of Eddie’s wife, recent transplants from Sicily who desperately need Eddie’s help. They need a place to stay while in America, a safe place to protect them so they can get jobs and make money and help their families back home. Eddie, always the stand-up guy, does just that, even securing them a job on the loading docks where he works. Marco has a wife and kids back in the old country. He wants to make just enough money so he can return to them someday, a man of wealth and promise compared to his countrymen who are starving. Rodolpho is quite another story. He is a man without a wife — open to the promises a free and prosperous country can offer him. There is only one thing standing in his way: Eddie Carbone.

Why would Eddie, seemingly so generous with his wife and niece and neighbors, have a problem with Rodolpho? Well, let’s see: Blond hair (very rare among Sicilians), loves to cook and sew and sing and dance, wears fancy clothes and dreams of seeing a Broadway show. You getting the picture? In Eddie’s words, Rodolpho “hits all the high notes,” and “if you closed a newspaper fast enough, you’d blow him over” and “the guy ain’t right.” But this isn’t Rodolpho’s worst crime. It’s falling in love with Catherine, Eddie’s pride and joy. Nothing short of all-out war has been declared on Eddie, a battle he must not lose: a confrontation that strips him down and exposes every sad and gaping wound.

A View From The Bridge is all bombast and argument, something the actors in this production have a fine time exploiting. The frenetic energy and tension is sustained from the very beginning, the actors easily recovering from the occasional flubbed line. Although the prejudices and political implications of Miller’s two-act play may seem a bit dated, this 50-year-old work does not lose its relevance or power. Just like its setting, it’s raw and wrenching and takes no prisoners.


See A View from the Bridge at Stagecrafters Theatre (415 S. Lafayette, Royal Oak). Call 248-541-6430. Runs Friday through Sunday until May 1.

E-mail Dan DeMaggio at [email protected]