A View from the Bridge (Gallery Players – Columbus, OH)

 

Leave it to Arthur Miller to tackle the kind of deep topics that would’ve been impossible to discuss openly in the repressive 1950s. First performed with another one-act play in 1955 on Broadway that closed after only a few months, Miller’s A View from the Bridge was revised and expanded to two acts, eventually finding success in productions staged in England as well as in the form of several Broadway revivals; now this important piece about immigration and the perils of too much love is being presented by Gallery Players with a talented cast in a production that is largely successful.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – (left to right) Sonda Staley (Beatrice), Eliya Smith (Catherine), Mike Writtenberry (Rodolpho), Brian A. Palmer (Marco), and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 

A View from the Bridge takes place in the 1950s within the Brooklyn apartment of the Carbones, an Italian family made up of Eddie, a longshoreman; his wife, Beatrice; and their orphaned niece, Catherine, a teenager. Eddie has specific ideas about the kind of life he wants for his niece, his affection for her causing alienation between him and his wife. The situation only grows more complicated when cousins of his wife, the brothers Marco and Rodolpho, arrive to stay with them as illegal immigrants. As Rodolpho and Catherine’s friendship grows, Eddie’s concern for his niece’s well-being only grows, generating a series of outbursts that affect not only the lives of those in his household but the whole community.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – (left to right) Brian A. Palmer (Marco) and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 
Standouts in the cast are Richard Napoli as the hard-working but troubled Eddie; Mike Writtenberry as Rodolpho, the immigrant from Italy; Brian A. Palmer as Marco, Rodolpho’s imposing brother; Eliya Smith as Catherine, the innocent teen; and, last but not least, Sonda Staley as Beatrice, Eddie’s ignored wife. Mr. Napoli, sounding a bit like Stallone in Rocky, is excellent at making his point known using the script as written with its veiled allusions to homosexuality; this type of writing demands someone with the proper swagger and demeanor to pull it off with a modern audience used to far more explicit and direct works, and Mr. Napoli fits that bill. Mr. Writtenberry holds firm to his accent and expressive mannerisms as Rodolpho, perfectly demonstrating the kind of behavior that riles Eddie; their “boxing match” (choreographed by Ryan Metzger) is intense and squirm-inducing. Mr. Palmer doesn’t have a lot to say as Marco, but that’s because there is no need; his imposing stature and use of silence and a stare says more than enough. Ms. Smith as first seems too naive to be a girl on the cusp of adulthood, but that is precisely the point; her youthful energy grows into a woman’s resolve through this performance, even though her slip is still showing along her hemline throughout. Ms. Staley has a matter-of-factness as Beatrice that makes her performance all the more touching in the scene with Ms. Smith where she gently lets her know that it is time for her to grow up; when she asks her husband, “When am I gonna be your wife again?” one can feel her loneliness. Ms. Staley can only be faulted for her lackluster sweeping skills, an ability that surely would be second nature to a housewife of this era.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – Richard Napoli (Eddie) and Sonda Staley (Beatrice)
 
Director Nancy Williams guides this production with a firm understanding of the material and at a pace that ensures no moment out stays its welcome. Ms. Williams missteps with her choice of underscoring music for two pivotal scenes in the second act; the music during the raid sounds like a scene out of The Maltese Falcon, and the violent attack at the end sounds like the rumble in West Side Story. The rest of the music in this production is well-placed and appropriate, so why have these two scenes play out with such obvious cues that dissolve the tension in their respective scenes? It’s almost as if the director doesn’t trust her talented cast to carry these moments on their own. Another unfortunate decision is casting Nick Baldasare as Alfieri, the lawyer and narrator of the story. Mr. Baldasare cuts a handsome frame, but his vocal modulation and speed make quite a bit of what he says unintelligible even though he is quite loud.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – Eliya Smith (Catherine) and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 

A View from the Bridge is absorbing theatre, and even with some notable flaws this production is worthwhile. There is a kind of palpable charm that comes through in the material and time period that is inviting and even a bit dangerous. This is the kind of play that can speak to empty nesters as well as anyone who has ties to family that can prove to be harmful if not properly nurtured and checked.

*** out of ****

A View from the Bridge continues through to May 22nd in the Roth-Resler Theater at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus located at 1125 College Avenue, and more information can be found at http://columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players/

Advertisements

The Turn of the Screw (Little Theatre Off Broadway – Grove City, OH)

Imagine a ghost story with no mood lighting or creepy sound effects. Now add some awkward scene changes where, in place of transitional music or applause, there is just the squeaking of scenery on wheels being moved about the stage. Don’t forget to have moments where “ghosts” appear brightly lighted and moving about like zombies. Once you have all of that together, you have the core elements that make up Little Theatre Off Broadway’s The Turn of the Screw, a production so plodding and creatively bankrupt that the couple in front of me and the group of three ladies to my right all fled at intermission, probably to salvage what was left of their Friday night.

  
There is plenty of atmosphere in the original novella by Henry James, and the 1961 film version titled The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr is a classic; this adaptation by Jack Neary seems to be okay, save for an incredibly silly coda at the end. The Turn of the Screw is about a governess sent to look after two orphaned siblings, Flora and Miles. Once in their company, she sees and hears what seems to be apparitions of the previous governess, Miss Jessel, and man servant, Peter Quint, both now deceased under mysterious circumstances. The new governess fears that the children are consorting with these ghosts and that their lives are at risk. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, isn’t sure what to think; are the children in danger, or is their new governess off her rocker?

Somehow this classic thriller has been gutted, performed as if it is a training exercise about how to walk and talk as well as enter and exit rooms. It’s about as thrilling as watching someone folding napkins. I don’t see what director Brian A. Palmer must’ve been thinking when he planned this out as all of the elements of a good ghost story are there in the script but without any of the stage accoutrements – no drippy candles, darkness, eerie sounds or music. I don’t blame the actors, none of which I feel would be fair to name here; the governess, housekeeper, and Flora have their moments (the actress playing the governess sneezed during the second act; it was the most exciting, realistic moment in the play), but the rest of the cast (especially the man playing the children’s uncle at the beginning of the piece) are merely reciting lines with no feeling or apparent understanding of what they’re saying.

  
The two actors playing the ghosts appear in makeup that makes them look more like extras on “The Addams Family” set than creepy other-worldly beings. Their costumes are draped with some brown fabric that resembles hosiery, as if these spirits are themselves haunted by a bad case of static cling with pantyhose sticking to their clothes. I heard some quickly stifled laughter from the audience when these ghosts appeared, sometimes walking through the audience to get to the stage. And again, the set is rather brightly colored and everything fully illuminated save for a few moments where the lights are dimmed slightly. Where are the murky shadows? The sound of the wind or chirping of crickets? A soft bit of foreboding score to bridge the scenes? None of that is here. Another thing that bothered me was the discussion of Peter Quint’s hair being red; when he appears as a ghost it looks pretty dark to me. That’s small potatoes, true, but it’s still an example of the lack of the requisite attention to detail one would expect to find.

This production of The Turn of the Screw is a glittering example of how important a director’s vision and guidance is to the success or failure of a production. Some of the cast isn’t without talent, but they appear to be floating free without a firm grasp on how to approach the material or sustain – or generate – any kind of mood. The material is ripe with opportunity for creativity, but what is being presented here is embarrassingly stale and static. As much as I’m a fan of live theatre, go buy the movie The Innocents instead.

* out of ****

The Turn of the Screw continues through to February 7th in the Little Theatre Off Broadway located at 3981 Broadway in downtown Grove City (around 20 minutes from Columbus), and more information can be found at http://ltob.org/