Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge isn’t one of his better-known plays, but The Guthrie’s current production makes a good argument for raising the play’s stature in the Miller canon. It’s got a tighter dramatic arc than Death of a Salesman, the play it most closely resembles, and the main character, Eddie Carbone (played by John Carroll Lynch, a Coen brothers favorite) is every bit an everyman as Willie Loman, but without the element of weird dementia that infects Willie’s brain.
Eddie’s dilemma is fairly commonplace. He and his wife have been taking care of their niece, Catherine (played by Robyn Rykoon) since she was a little girl. Now that Catherine is a big girl, and attracting the attentions of a man Eddie doesn’t like (one of a pair of illegal immigrant dockworkers the family is harboring until they get on their feet), Eddie gets angry, jealous, and mildly homicidal.
The play takes place in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, literally in the shadow of the Brooklyn bridge, where most of the men work loading and unloading ships. Aside from the slow unraveling of Eddie’s frontal cortex, it’s the illegal immigrant theme in this play, which Miller wrote in 1962, that makes it look prescient. You half expect Lou Dobbs to show up and start railing, “This is the kind of crap I’m talking about, people—undocumented aliens taking jobs and women from red-blooded American workers. What has our nation come to?”
Dobbs never shows, but Richard Iglewski does, in the form of a lawyer who acts as a kind of Greek chorus for the tragedy that is about to unfold. From the beginning, you know the thing is going to end badly; it’s just a question of who is going to kill who, when, and why. Guided by Ethan McSweeney’s unobtrusively intelligent direction, the noose slowly tightens around Eddie’s neck, until all his good intentions eventually lead him down the exit ramp to hell.
The set, staging, casting, and direction all feel perfectly suited for this play, which is a testament to McSweeney’s talent for putting the text and characters first, rather than shellacking it with his own ideas about what the play “should” be trying to communicate. Miller’s message in A View is as ancient as the Greek dramas upon which it is based, but seeing it unfold in a contemporary drama, with characters the audience can relate to, gives the play’s final moments a much more immediate impact. These are simple people trying to get along in a complex world, which is of course a recipe for disaster—and, when it’s done well, great drama.
A View From the Bridge continues at the Guthrie Theater through Nov. 8.