Immigrant fear and self-loathing abound in the compelling 'A View from the Bridge'

Roger Watts

Roger Watts

In A View from the Bridge, the threat of deportation looms over Italian immigrants in 1950s Brooklyn. Arthur Miller’s classic play is now being staged in a compelling production at Theatre in the Round, a timely reminder that America has been built by those who’ve come here, often against adversity, in search of better lives.

A View from the Bridge

Theatre In the Round

Though its characters’ legal status is key to its plot, fundamentally A View from the Bridge is a play about a man’s struggle to manage his own jealousy and self-hate. Audiences may not entirely share the narrator’s admiration for a man who “allowed himself to be wholly known,” but director Allen Hamilton and his well-cast performers do an admirable job of bringing the pathetic Eddie Carbone to life.

Eddie (Michael Egan) is a longshoreman, working long days to provide for his wife Beatrice (Roberta Gibbons) as well as Catherine (Aidan Jhane Gallivan) — a niece, now 17, who the couple raised after her parents died. As the play begins, they also take in a pair of Beatrice’s cousins (Derek Dirlam and Don Maloney) who’ve snuck into the country to earn support for starving relatives back in Italy.

Set designer Toni Solie situates the family in the tight confines of a modest but tidy living room raised above the theater’s signature stage. Neighbors occasionally walk past and nod, a reminder of the tight-knit neighborhood where squealing on the newcomers would be tantamount to treason. That’s a treason that Eddie, however, is tempted to commit when one of the cousins begins romancing his beloved niece.

There’s a well-worn script for an admirably protective father figure, and the play’s core dramatic tension comes from Eddie pushing that script to its limit and beyond as he tries to convince everyone — including himself — that innocent parental affection is all he feels for Catherine. A local attorney (David Carey) narrates the proceedings, speaking as a sort of community conscience.

Egan captures the warmth and integrity that have made Eddie a pillar of his family, while allowing a growing desperation to leak out around the edges. His discipline is characteristic of Hamilton’s production, which keeps these characters firmly rooted in their mundane circumstances even as epic tragedy threatens to overwhelm them.

Gallivan, looking (thanks in part to costume designer Carolann Winther) precisely the part of a midcentury American girl ready to make her way in the world, helps the show keep its steady keel even in charged moments like one where she kneels at her uncle’s feet and accepts an apple slice from his hand. Gibbons is also pitch-perfect as the loving yet knowing wife who does what she can to forestall Eddie’s self-destruction.

Though the production isn’t without flaws (including some inevitably wandering accents, and a clumsy use of musical scoring at a climactic moment), almost everything about this modest, heartfelt staging works in favor of Miller’s intimate drama. We feel these characters’ physicality, the way they turn to their bodies for resolution when their hearts and minds are in turmoil.

In the end, we’re completely absorbed in this portrait of a man who can’t admit his own fallibility, who shouts lies with increasing volume even as the truth becomes unmistakably apparent. The production’s inauguration-month timing may be apt in more ways than one.