Kate Champion and the State Theatre Company revisit the docks and tense domesticity of 1950s Brooklyn in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, but the lashing out of emotionally stunted men remains a timeless theme.
Ropes and box-like platforms hang suspended over the Dunstan Playhouse stage as ripped men in t-shirts and jeans climb and pace, checking knots and skipping across levels. It’s all a bit Bootmen, until the suited form of lawyer Alfieri (Bill Allert) strides onstage and begins to set the scene in a Brooklyn accent.
Eddie Carbone (Mark Saturno) is a longshoreman, one of hundreds of men who live and work by the water, earning their keep loading and unloading cargo in the docks. It’s hard work, with no job security – when there are no ships, there’s no work. He comes home each day to his wife Beatrice (Elena Carapetis) and her 17-year-old niece Catherine (Maiah Stewardson), who the couple have raised from a young age. In her first State Theatre appearance Stewardson bounds onstage, nestling into Eddie’s broad shoulders with an intimacy that seems off for a surrogate parent-child relationship, even if Eddie and Catherine don’t fully grasp it yet. From the furtive glances Carapetis sends their way, however, it’s clear someone does.
With Catherine due to enter the workforce, the household is already on the precipice of dramatic change, stakes that are raised with the arrival of two distant cousins of Beatrice. The pair are ‘submarines’, Sicilian immigrants smuggled to shore by a syndicate, and putting them up is a gesture that strokes Eddie’s sense of benevolence and righteousness. The elder, Marco (Dale March with a moustache that deserves its own billing) plans to work hard to support his starving children back home, but the handsome and blonde Rodolpho (Antoine Jelk) wields a charisma, confidence – and chemistry with Catherine – that Eddie almost instantly resents.
The appeal of mounting Miller’s 1955 play in 2019 are obvious; the text drips with all-too-timely themes of toxic masculinity, migration and economic uncertainty. Eddie uses his deathbed promise to Beatrice’s sister as justification to police the behaviours of Catherine, not to mention Beatrice and the men around him. He uses his self-serving, homophobic conviction that something “ain’t right” about Rodolpho as a fig leaf to justify his own sexual insecurities. Even his criticism of Catherine’s slick new suitor buying new shoes, clothes and records echoes familiar talkback complaints of new migrants: they have fancy sneakers, their smartphones are newer than ours.
But it’s how Eddie filters the world around him into his domestic situation that transfers all too seamlessly from the 1950s to today; Eddie is a man who feels he is losing what little control he has over his life, so attempts to reassert it over whoever he can: his wife, his niece, the houseguests who could be deported with a single phone call. A telling moment comes when Eddie ruefully flips a conversation about Rodolpho’s many talents – singing, dancing, sewing – to his own lack thereof. It is only Rodolpho’s migration status that prevents him from finding work away from the docks; for Eddie, it seems, there aren’t many other options.
As another toxic father figure surrounded by a taboo-rustling web of family relationships, Saturno’s Eddie is an interesting counterpoint to his patriarch role in Nicki Bloom’s 2017 play Vale – he’s even married to Carapetis again. Saturno’s face is in a semi-permanent state of scrunch as he scowls, sulks, stomps and struggles to comprehend a status quo that is slipping away from him, as Carapetis’ Beatrice and Allert’s Alfieri try every approach in the book to make him see sense. As ‘Bea’, Carapetis brings a real depth that defies Eddie’s characterisation of her as a nagging housewife, and her straight-talking guidance of Stewardson’s Catherine is a highlight.
Some choices bristle, however. Despite its cool minimalism, the set design rarely conveys the claustrophobia of five bodies in a small apartment, and instead pitches for a more abstract mirroring of the tensions they bake in. And while the costume design attempts to blur the period and setting, the decision to have the cast all adopt Brooklyn accents – with the obvious exception of March and Jelk’s faux-Italian accents and broken English – seeks to have it both ways, with mixed results.
But then, as now, we too often see men like Eddie who lash out, or seek to point fingers for the state of their lives. As we watch Eddie resolutely trudge along a path to alienation from his family and community, the possibility that in different circumstances Eddie might channel these frustrations into MAGA caps, abusing female writers on Twitter or voting for Fraser Anning certainly does not seem a bridge too far.
A View From The Bridge
July 12 – August 3
Kate Pardey / State Theatre Company