Alfieri is an Italian immigrant who labels his law practice "unromantic"-and if he's equating romance with hope, he's on the money. He's a benevolent bearer of bad tidings, counseling the displaced who scour Brooklyn's dank Red Hook district for whiskey bottles and any scrap of purpose.
In Eddie Carbone, Alfieri had found a compatriot, an Italian-American whose work ethic and devotion to duty lifted him beyond the masses' despair. But as the scraggly longshoreman lies helpless on a murky walkway at the end of the play, Alfieri eulogizes a man whose decency shrouds a fatal flaw-a tragic figure who, as Shakespeare said of Othello, "loved not wisely but too well."
With Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, San Diego's Renaissance Theatre Company captures Eddie's excesses. We come to care about this guy whose heart outsizes his wiry frame the way Shaq dwarfs Spud Webb. He and wife Beatrice (Susan Denaker) have opened their home to two Sicilian stevedores. Never mind that they're here illegally; they're Beatrice's cousins and enjoy Eddie's protection under the family bond.
But familial affections were strained years before, when Eddie lost his soul to his gorgeous live-in niece, Catherine. Even now, he abstains from sex with Beatrice out of his love for his 18-year-old "Madonna," who's flush with curiosity about the world around her.
In her naívete, Catherine thinks it's still OK to sit on the edge of the tub and watch Eddie shave. Such lead-ons tear at her uncle, especially when Catherine (a wonderfully ingenuous Jessica John) falls in love with another man-one of Beatrice's cousins. Honor takes a back seat as a desperate Eddie betrays the interloper, with various displays of machismo that compromise the family's ideas of ethnic and social equality.
Catherine's lover, Rodolpho (Michael Lamendola), is taken with America's material side; he wants to buy a motorcycle and sings the pop standard "Paper Doll" like nobody's business as he prepares to marry Catherine. Marco (J.E. Creaghe) is more sedate, preferring to send his money to his family. The contrast works, for a while. Director George Flint shows prowess as an actor's director-but too often, he coaxes scenes at the expense of character development.
At one point, a liberated Catherine invites Rodolpho to dance; never once is she directed to physically shove her entreaty in Eddie's face. In several first-act scenes, seconds turn into minutes as the family gathers 'round the dining table-they rotely sit, stand and sit again, like so many figurines at a carnival shooting gallery.
The stasis is equally notable at the end, when Eddie dies in Beatrice's arms. It would have been wiser to let the mortally wounded Eddie linger beyond the play's end. That move would underscore Alfieri's speech, directing our imaginations, rather than just our eyes, onto his friend's decease.
These and other such flaws aren't as inconsequential as they seem on paper. Eddie's compromised honor is obscured by mistranslations until the play regains momentum. Actor Jesse MacKinnon has a handle on the Eddie's volatility-now, he has to let the role come to him. Denaker persists nonetheless as the kind-hearted matriarch who doesn't know her own emotional strength.
When Eddie dies, the world is plunged even further into spiritual debt. As Alfieri, the eloquent Charlie Riendeau articulates the mayhem beyond: "Even as I know how wrong he was," he intones, "... I tremble, for I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory."
But this View is also infected with the same pall that marked the San Diego Rep's recent Proof-sometimes it's not a play but a depiction, neglecting clues to the characters' natures while everybody plays musical chairs.
On the other hand, maybe Flint (who's to be commended on the performances of his cast) sought to mimic the theater's ancient masters, right down to the sparseness of their stage direction. If that's the case, he's met his goal.
This review is based on the performance of Nov. 16. A View from the Bridge runs through Dec. 14 at the Cygnet Theatre, $20-$25. 866-633-3849.