“Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better.”
Rest assured, you won’t have to settle for half with this accomplished production of Arthur Miller’s 1956 tragedy. Eddie Carbone, a straightforward and devoted family man, lives in “the slum that faces the bay on the seaward side of Brooklyn Bridge” with his wife Beatrice and niece Catherine. He is only too proud to put up his wife’s cousins when they “submarine” in on a ship from Italy, looking for illicit work in the land of opportunity.
The two cousins are almost polar opposites: strong, proud, hardworking Marco, and funny, blond, theatrical Rodolpho. Almost as soon as he walks through the door Rodolpho becomes the focus of the family’s attention: Catherine rapidly falls for his youthful charm, while Eddie takes an instant dislike, quickly coming to resent the stranger living on his floor. In Eddie’s eyes Marco is a suitably manly man, proud and keen to earn money to support his family back home. He suspects that Rodolpho, on the other hand, is a man’s man in the wrong way: a blond “punk” that’s “not right” as Eddie equivocates to his lawyer. Suffice to say that it’s not at all the match Eddie had imagined for his beloved niece.
The play is narrated by the lawyer Alfieri, who soon comes to understand the inevitably of our protagonist’s situation: Eddie is a fiercely tribal man caught between his overzealous protectiveness and misplaced love for his niece, and his deep seated mistrust of the unsuitable “punk” she so desperately wishes to marry.
Almost all of the action takes place in the Carbones’ front room, and the boiler-like atmosphere ramps up the pressure slowly throughout – you just know it isn’t going to end well. Performed with a pared back staging in the intimate black-box Pilch theatre, this production puts the performances centre stage.
The small cast were very impressive, wrangling bravely with the Brooklyn accent throughout and only occasionally slipping into “generic American”. Any blips can easily be put down to first night nerves, and there were some real standout performances.
Caleb Barron as Eddie deserves a special mention – his performance was nuanced and gripping, turning on a dime from genial husband and uncle to enraged patriarch. Joe Stanton played Alfieri, the lawyer-cum-narrator, with flair. At first this character seemed a bit out of place, even corny, pausing the action every ten minutes to give us his mob-lawyer opinion, but in the end I came to enjoy his conspiratorial style. He is our window onto these characters, and helps us to see how Eddie’s uncompromising view of the world leads to his inevitable fall.
The performance I saw ran very smoothly, which is no mean feat on an opening night. The set decoration and costume was minimal but effective, with clever use of lighting and music delineating the handful of different settings. One gripe: in any small theatre there’s a danger of bright lighting on stage leaving you and the rest of the audience semi-illuminated, making it hard to immerse yourself in the action. This play was no exception, with most of the “indoors” scenes very brightly lit – as a humble student newspaper reviewer I wouldn’t claim to know if this is inevitable, or if it could be improved, but there it is nevertheless.
The fact that I’m having to scrabble around amongst lighting technicalities to look for criticisms should give you some idea of how much I enjoyed this play. All in all it was a dramatic, gripping, and surprisingly funny story of love, selfishness, and prejudice, performed by a talented cast and crew – you won’t be disappointed.