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STAGE VIEW; A PLAY THAT FALLS VICTIM TO ITS AUTHOR'S ATTENTIONS
In a way, Arthur Miller seems as obsessed with his play ''A View From the Bridge'' as the play's longshoreman hero, Eddie Carbone, is obsessed with desire for the niece he has taken into his home and reared. One feels that ever since ''A View From the Bridge'' was first seen here in 1955, Mr. Miller has stared at it, brooded over it, prodded it and manipulated it and stretched it every which way, unable to put it down until he'd made it grow up. And we know there have been times in the past when this sort of self-critical reworking produced admirable results for one or another playwright. There are also times when it produces a kind of dramatic forgetfulness: the author has tampered with the text so often that he's quite forgotten what's in it and what's not, whereupon he winds up doing some scenes three or four times over and some scenes not at all. In which case the play isn't really rewritten, it's just overwritten. I'm afraid that ''A View From the Bridge'' now belongs to this latter group, victim of the very propinquity that proved so troublesome to Eddie Carbone.

The overwriting is utterly fatal to generous Eddie. It is clear from the outset that Mr. Miller means us to see the Italianate Eddie from Brooklyn - volatile, expansive, proud - as an at least quasitragic figure. We are introduced right off to a neighborhood lawyer who serves as a one-man Chorus, free to edge in from the wings and plant himself in a spotlight so that he can confide in us the dire things to come. Speaking in phrases that are somewhat on the pompous side, he tells us that poor Eddie ''never expected to have a Destiny,'' though plainly a Destiny lies in wait for him. ''Now,'' he adds, ''as the months passed, there was A Trouble that would not go away.'' As you can see, his conversation tends to sound clotted with Capital Letters, though actor Robert Prosky does his level and often effective best to make his prophetic utterances sound like casual street speech. In any event, we have been alerted. We know what to look for. Unfortunately, as we look for it, following Eddie into his Red Hook living room beneath the frayed fringe of a bell-shaped lamp, we don't find it. Eddie doesn't seem tragic. He seems either retarded or very hard of hearing.

Not during the first few minutes, perhaps. Home after a day's work on the docks to greet his wife (Rose Gregorio) matter-of-factly, and his niece (Saundra Santiago) a great deal more warmly, he momentarily keeps his unconscious longings for the girl genuinely unconscious. If he caresses her shoulders briefly, the caress is offhand, paternal. If he backs away a few feet to admire her the more (''You are the Madonna type''), his interest might be called esthetic. Even as he resists the notion of her leaving business school and taking a job in a not especially safe section of the borough, he seems earnestly concerned for her welfare rather than unduly alarmed over her slipping from his grasp. Eddie, in the person of actor Tony LoBianco, is plainly overprotective but not necessarily a bundle of secret lusts. Good enough.

What is not good enough - what is on occasion unintentionally funny - is the terrible obtuseness that follows. In scene after scene Eddie is given the message - urgently, loudly, desperately in some cases - that his interest in the 18-year-old is dangerously excessive. Eddie hears what is being said to him, even argues with it, hands trembling the while. Yet, as dramatist Miller has diagrammed the action of his play, no matter what is said to his hero and no matter what his hero says in return, Eddie Carbone's physical desire for his niece is apparently supposed to remain unconscious from 8 o'clock right down to a climactic knife-fight that comes along about 10:20. It is a staggering ambiguity - why not say impossibility? - to conjure with.

His wife has spelled out the truth for him. Quietly but straightforwardly she has begun by asking a question: ''When am I gonna be a wife again, Eddie?'' Though Eddie has threshed about the room evasively without being able to form an adequate answer, she has zeroed in on the girl and the circumscribed life he's carved out for her. Only an extraordinarily dense person (a person not dramatically interesting) would fail to make the connection. When Eddie does so fail, his wife encourages the girl herself, who has fallen in love with a young illegal immigrant, to take steps to free herself. The girl, loyal to the Eddie who has always been kind to her, supposes that he simply doesn't ''like'' her boyfriend. ''Was there ever any fella he liked for you?'' the wife asks, pressing the girl to face facts.

The lawyer has spelled it out for Eddie, plainer than plain. He begins with a relatively cautious ''Sometimes there's too much, Eddie, too much love for a daughter, too much love for a niece,'' then rises to a passionate crescendo. ''You can't marry her, can you?'' he roars at the bullheaded uncle, without budging him or awakening him to his own feelings.

Even Eddie himself has seemed half-aware of his actual feelings now and again. Conscious of the girl's maturing sexuality, he dislikes her walking ''wavy.'' If he laughs off her protests (her reiterated ''I'm not a baby!''), he remains sternly overprotective - and knows that his concern is a bit much. ''I guess I'd never figured on one thing,'' he confesses to her fairly early in the saga. What hadn't he figured on? ''That you'd ever grow up,'' he admits. He sometimes seems to understand just enough about himself to have saved everybody else an awful lot of trouble.

But no, he doesn't understand. We come to 10:20 and that knifefight that will leave Eddie dead on the street. We have by now played every key confrontation (Eddie-wife, Eddie-lawyer, Eddie-girl, Eddie-girl's lover) some two or three times, we've rehashed every available argument until we can recite its contours with director Arvin Brown's company. Just before Eddie goes into battle with a man he's betrayed to the immigration authorities (in an indirect effort to nail the young lover), Eddie's wife shakes her head ruefully and remarks that it's all come about because of something he wants and can't have. Suddenly he is stunned, aghast, shocked within an inch of his highly moral life. ''Is that what you think of me?,'' he roars in mighty injury, ''That I would have such a thought?''

If we had ever been able to believe in Eddie's ignorance of his own motives, this outburst would now constitute a fine irony. But we haven't believed, literally haven't been allowed to believe. Eddie's motives have been so stressed and overstressed, so explained and analyzed, so subjected to chalk-talk illustration that we are weary with the very thought of them - they were, after all, simple and obvious to begin with. (Eddie's kissing the girl's lover in an effort to prove him homosexual is blurred in the staging here, so thrown away that it makes no point at all.) In the end we are astonished, all right, but only at Eddie's astonishment.

Even as the play has been groaning under the weight of repetition, it has skimped here and there on vital matters. We aren't present, for instance, for the moment in which the immigrant boy (James Hayden) and the girl first confess their love for each other. Not that we are in sore need of love scenes as such. And there is a followup romantic interlude in which, before taking themselves to the nearest bed, they make back-reference to the fact that they have already planned to get married. But what happened to that nervous, courageous encounter in which they dared make the choice? Given the impact that their decision will have upon Eddie, and given their full awareness of what that impact is likely to be, such a scene might very well have interested us.

But it is quite difficult to keep our interest alive in any of the stubborn, headlong yet essentially ineffectual things the figureheads of this play keep doing. Mr. LoBianco's Eddie is certainly energetic; and in the few instances in which he is allowed to evoke an atmosphere beyond the confines of the living room - the heady aroma, say, of a coffee ship pulling into port - he makes the image vivid. But the energy he keeps pumping up is indiscriminately applied, spattering everyone within reach like grease from an overheated frying pan. No matter how extensive his fidgets, there is really no dimension to the role apart from his faintly symbolic function as Householder Infatuated with Niece. We don't honestly know anything about him in any of his other possible contexts.

As for the attractive Miss Santiago, she is simply Niece, and as I watched her cradle the dying Eddie in her arms (Madonna style), I half expected her to sing the aria she was so patently poised for. Miss Gregorio, Wife, is condemned by Mr. Brown's constricted stage direction to sit limply by while her world comes apart (was the staging this constricted when it was first arranged last season at New Haven's Long Wharf?), and Mr. Hayden is reasonably appealing as the Available Young Lover (though we never really discover why Eddie's bowling friends find him so funny). Alan Feinstein, as yet another smuggled-in kinsman, is quite good.

We know from past pleasures that author Miller can draw people (no capital letters). Here he has provided all the tumultuous gestures of a play without giving its participants genuine identities. It seems odd that he should have devoted himself so extensively to so arbitrary a task.

By WALTER KERR
Category: February 1983 | Added by: Lis (03.02.2010)
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