In the midst of the current migrant crisis Arthur Miller’s play A View from the Bridge, with its central theme of immigration morality, feels perhaps more relevant than ever. Not that Miller’s work needs any additional suspense – under the brooding backdrop of the Brooklyn bridge the tension steadily increases until it reaches a tragic but oddly relieving denouement.
In former Abbey Theatre director Joe Dowling’s new version of the play, Italian-American actor Scott Aiello takes on the role of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who welcomes two illegal Italian immigrants into the New York household that he shares with his wife Beatrice (Niamh McCann) and niece/adopted daughter Catherine (Lauren Coe).
Marco (Peter Coonan), the older immigrant, puts in a solid shift every day at the docks and is thus respected by Eddie, who feels that the Italian ‘gets’ him. Bleach-blonde Rodolpho (Joey Phillips), however, who sings, dances, and is generally considered ‘not right’ by Eddie, pierces his new host’s accommodating façade by courting Catherine, whom her uncle is at best protective of, at worst desirous of.
At one point in the play Alfieri, a lawyer most fond of a soliloquy, remarks that Eddie’s pupils have started to resemble ‘dark tunnels’ as he begins to implode, and Aiello portrays this transformation from generous welcomer to coal-eyed madman with utter conviction and credibility. The understated narrative of Marco, who finds his quiet humility and gratitude replaced by bitter rage at Eddie’s behaviour, is also masterfully represented by Coonan.
Of course Eddie’s moral anguish around the immigrants is heightened by his acceptance of his own background; as Alfieri tells at the very start of the action, Eddie and the other longshoremen are themselves products of Italian immigrant ancestors. By pointing out that every almost American migrated to the US at some point, Miller accentuates the sheer confusion of Eddie’s position and the sad irony of his growing hostility towards his foreign guests.
This is one of the many allegorical paradoxes that contribute to Miller’s cultural longevity. In honour of the playwright’s 100th birthday this year, the UCD Clinton Institute of American Studies in conjunction with the Gate Theatre are hosting a centenary on October 10th and 11th, with a number of special speakers and screenings. A convenient time to celebrate one of the most prominent playwrights of the twentieth century, and, as this gripping version of A View from the Bridge proved, he is well worth celebrating.