Eddie Carbone (John Shepard), a classic Miller tormented leading man, is a smoldering fire ready to spark at any moment. He provides for his family, wife Beatrice (Penelope Lindblom) and niece Catherine (Erika Cuenca), through backbreaking work as a longshoreman. Beatrice and Catherine walk on eggshells to keep Eddie from exploding, but throughout the play, a malignancy of conflicted feelings seethes in Eddie, barely below the surface. First, it's the idea of Catherine leaving school for an office job that threatens to derail the Carbone homelife. Then, when two of Beatrice's relatives, Marco (Jarrod DiGirorgi) and Rodolpho (Joel Ripka), arrive illegally from Italy to work, Eddie goes from simmering to the boiling point. It's not the hardship of having two more mouths to feed, or the challenge of keeping the immigrants' presence a secret from authorities that sets Eddie off. The problem for Eddie is the relationship that develops between Catherine and Rodolpho. It's a fairly healthy relationship, even if Rodolpho is looking for a path to American citizenship. What's unhealthy is Eddie's attraction to his niece. Having physically shunned his wife, Eddie's obsession with Catherine is slowly revealed and culminates in betrayal and violence.
This may not sound like a pretty picture, but the work by both Millers makes this an intensely compelling experience. The staging involves, not just a well done but typical New York apartment, but a catwalk bridge overhead (from which townspeople hover in judgment when Eddie turns on his in-laws) and use of the aisles in front of and leading into the theatre. Add to this the formidable narration by John Capodice, and the result is an intimate production in which the audience is nearly integrated with the show - very effective for such an emotional play.
John Shepard played a minor role in the Long Wharf Theatre and Broadway productions of View some 20 years ago. An accomplished actor, Shepard shows the crash and burn of Eddie's emotional tug of war, but often uses too many visible mannerisms to communicate Eddie's state of mind. It would be even more affecting if the building of rage and self-hatred were shown through more subtle acting choices.
As Eddie's wife Beatrice, Penelope Miller Lindblom is the quintessential dutiful 1950s wife. Beatrice has her own share of frustrations, and Lindblom does a great job of conveying the emotional roller coaster from the first scene through play's end. The aforementioned John Capodice doubles as narrator and attorney Alfieri. Seldom are his narrated remarks really necessary to understand the action, but his presence adds to the cohesiveness of the production and offers a moment or two of relief from the heavy turmoil on stage. He's an important part of the success of this production.
David Cabot and Joel Ripka portray Marco and Rodolpho well; their Italian accents are consistent, which is always welcome. Rodolpho is by script a blond, but they went a little overboard with Ripka's hair, resulting in a distractingly unnatural bright blond color.
A highlight of this production is witnessing Erika Cuenca totally embody Catherine, young and eager to live her life. She is aware of her uncle's inappropriate feelings, yet she is conflicted by her gratitude for her uncle's efforts in raising her. Having seen Cuenca's stunning performance as Alice in Quantum's Closer last year, it's obvious what a versatile actress she is. With perfect Brooklyn accent and charming mannerisms, she is totally believable as the young, sheltered woman. Her performance makes one anxious to see what she takes on next.
Scenic Designer Danila Korogodsky does her part in creating the slightly oppressive atmosphere, and the bridge is particularly effective. Costumes by Pei-Chi Shu are appropriate and well done. Lighting and sound (Lloyd Sobel and Joshua Maszle, respectively) are so successful, they are inobtrusive. Robert Miller's direction pulls everything together wonderfully.
A View from the Bridge continues through September 26. For schedule and ticket information, call 412-621-4445 or visit www.ppc.edu/playhouse/index.shtml. In repertory with this production, the Playhouse presents a unique collaboration with Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh, who will produce William Bolcom's opera A View From the Bridge.