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.