Review: Shattered Globe’s A View from the Bridge Simmers with Raw Emotion and Physicality

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is a mid-century American story, a tale that’s rimmed with classic notions of honor and respect, as old as Greek tragedy and Sicilian immigrant lore. It’s a story of a man who loves too much and doesn’t understand why he’s mistaken in his love. This classic American play is being staged now by Shattered Globe Theatre in an intimate and brutally emotional production directed by Louis Contey. 

Eddie Carbone (Scott Aiello) is the man, a longshoreman who lives in a rundown section near the Brooklyn Bridge populated by Italian immigrants. His wife Beatrice (Eileen Niccolai) loves him and wishes he would be more of a husband to her. The other member of the family is Bea’s niece, Catherine (a glowing performance by Isabelle Muthiah), now a young woman ready for her first job. Eddie has raised her as his own and is finding it difficult to let go.  

The setting is 1950s Red Hook, a neighborhood that juts out into the East River, thereby getting its name. Red for its red clay soil and hook for the shape of its peninsula. At that time, Red Hook was one of the busiest ports in the country. 

John Judd as Alfieri. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The play opens with a prologue by neighborhood lawyer Alfieri (John Judd, one of Chicago’s fine veteran actors), himself an Italian immigrant, who serves as a kind of Greek chorus throughout the play. Alfieri introduces us to Red Hook, “the gullet of New York swallowing the tonnage of the world.” He describes his law practice—dealing with the petty troubles of the poor—longshoremen and their wives, family squabbles, eviction notices—and 3000 years of distrust of the law. “Because law has not been a friendly idea in Sicily since the Greeks were beaten.“ He introduces Eddie Carbone, a man whose complaint is also as old as Sicilians’ view of the law. Eddie demands respect, for himself and for his name—and expects Sicilian justice.

Eddie comes home from work to find Catherine waiting to tell him her news. She’s going to leave stenography school and take a job in a nearby office. Bea encourages her in her wish to move out into the world. In addition to wanting what’s best for her late sister’s daughter, she senses the stubborn intensity of Eddie’s feelings for the girl. Eddie doesn’t like the idea of Catherine’s new job (it wasn’t his idea) and he criticizes her new short skirt and lectures her on her behavior in public. “I’m tellin’ you, you’re walkin’ wavy.”  

Eddie’s news is that Bea’s cousins have arrived—the ship that has brought them from Sicily is in port and they should arrive later tonight. Eddie has helped fund their trip to the US and get fake seamen’s papers so they can work. (This was the 1950s version of illegal immigration.) 

Eileen Niccolai and Scott Aiello. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The two cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, arrive late that evening; they’ll live at the Carbones’ house until they settle elsewhere. Marco (Mike Cherry) is a family man with wife and children in Sicily to whom he’ll send money regularly. Rodolpho (Harrison Weger) is a young bachelor who also wants to work but has fun on his mind. He’s a blond Sicilian with many talents and he and Catherine are immediately attracted to each other. And thus the plot is in place. A classic story of love, jealousy and tragedy.

Miller’s language in A View from the Bridge is simple and straightforward—a peasant story told by America’s immigrant peasants. Raw emotion is expressed by a character in every scene. Miller says in his introduction to one edition of the play that he had known the story of A View from the Bridge for a long time. He heard it from a waterfront worker who had known Eddie’s prototype. When it was told to me, he says, “I knew its ending a few minutes after the teller had begun to speak.” Miller realized that a play from that story would be suspenseful because you would know too well from the beginning how it would turn out—and you would feel the desire to stop this man and tell him what he was doing to his life.  

Director Contey has chosen a sterling cast of veterans and newcomers and directs the play with great attention to the language and physical interactions among the actors. A View From the Bridge is a physical play, complete with dancing and fighting—lots of fighting. Scott Aiello is a strong and determined Eddie, balanced by Eileen Niccolai with Bea’s emotional insights that go way beyond his. Isabelle Muthiah and Harrison Weger are both well cast in their moving performances as the young lovers. 

Foreground, Scott Aiello as Eddie and Isabelle Muthiah as Catherine. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Shayna Patel’s scenic design establishes the Carbone home living/dining area with steps and ramps leading off to other areas.  Lighting is by Shelley Strasser and sound by Jeffrey Levin. Jessica Goewens is costume designer. Gaby Labotka directs fight and intimacy scenes. Tina M. Jach is production stage manager,

My first memory of seeing  A View From the Bridge was the powerful 1997 Broadway production starring Anthony LaPaglia as Eddie Carbone. The production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play and Best Leading Actor for LaPaglia and also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival.

Another memorable production was Goodman Theatre’s 2017 mounting of the Ivo van Hove version. The Belgian director produced the play on a bare, bleak stage that resembled a cage or fighting ring. The actors were in street clothes and barefoot. 

Miller’s most respected plays make up a trilogy of 20th century American tragedies and each has a tragic hero. In the following paragraphs, I’m quoting parts of my review of the 2017 Goodman Theatre production.

Eddie Carbone is one of Miller’s powerful characters. A thread connects Eddie to Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman and Joe Keller in All My Sons (played by John Judd in a stirring 2018 Court Theatre production)They are all men who yearned to achieve the American dream but failed, through their own actions and circumstances that are racked up against them. The same throughline connects their wives—Beatrice, Linda Loman and Kate Keller—in their long-suffering love and support for their damaged husbands.

Arthur Miller writes, in his introduction to Arthur Miller: Eight Plays, “It is necessary, if one is to reflect reality, not only to depict why a man does what he does, or why he nearly didn’t do it, but why he cannot simply walk away and say to hell with it.” Eddie cannot simply walk away and say the hell with it. Or as Alfieri says, “Eddie was as good a man as he had to be.”

A View from the Bridge by Shattered Globe Theatre continues at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through October 21. Tickets are $15‑$52 for performances Wednesday-Sunday. Running time is two hours with one intermission. 

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.