There was lots of "news" at Waukesha Civic Theatre during opening night of "A View from the Bridge."
There were many performers new to WCT. And the play, written by Arthur Miller and first presented in 1955, is one of the playwright's lesser-known shows. It was probably a first for most theater-goers.
While the play is seldom seen, it does have the look of other shows of that era that most are familiar with. Eddie Carbone, this show's protagonist, might remind folks of another hot-tempered character, Tennessee Williams' Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Plus, the 1954 crime drama "On the Waterfront" deals with corruption among longshoremen in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The original screenplay was also written by Arthur Miller, and its angst-ridden main character, Terry Malloy, bears some resemblance to Carbone.
"A View from the Bridge" is a weighty drama, which is also new to WCT, which normally ends its season on a lighter note. Yet this cast bore the weight expertly.
Eddie Carbone (Noah Silverstein), a Brooklyn longshoreman, has, along with his wife, Beatrice (Jacqueline Gosz), raised his orphaned niece, Catherine (Gabriella Smurawa). At age 17, she is a lovely young woman. Eddie, who has worked hard to pay for stenography school for Catherine so she could move up from the low-class tenements, has sheltered her from life's seamy side. Beatrice's hope has been that "one day she would be a secretary."
And then, two of Beatrice's cousins come from Italy to stay with the family and find work in America. They are illegal immigrants. Marco (Phil Birdener) has a wife and three children back home. Rodolpho, Marco's brother, is unmarried. He likes to sing, and he buys some fancy clothes with his first paycheck. Men at the dock make fun of Rodolpho, and Eddie complains about his effeminate ways, saying, "He ain't right."
But Catherine is smitten by Rodolpho's charm, which causes Eddie great distress, leaving the household in disarray. Eddie seeks advice on the matter from his lawyer friend, Alfieri (Dave Boxhorn), who also serves as the show's narrator as he watches the family unravel with the arrival of Catherine's womanhood and the house guest she falls for.
Eddie is a simple character thrust into complicated circumstances. He is childless and with a distant marriage to Beatrice, and his relationship with Catherine has become more than that of a father and daughter. When he sees Beatrice enamored of Rodolpho, he is nearly inconsolable and regards him as less than a man.
As Eddie, Silverstein carries his character's rage as his hatred and confusion slowly turn him maniacal. His performance is mesmerizing until the final scenes, when Eddie's anger no longer simmers under the surface, but boils over into histrionics as he realizes his life is spiraling out of control.
Director John Baiocchi has assembled a core group of six actors who are totally committed to this challenging show and respond with stellar performances. Silverstein, Gosz and Smurawa create such a natural family unit you'd think you were peeking through their living room window. Silverstein's emotions are all over his sleeve — he slouches, punches at the air, clenches his teeth and screams as he tries to cope with the changing family dynamics.
Yet, in the final scenes, the antics of Silverstein's Eddie needlessly overshadowed the other characters who were carrying burdens of their own — especially Beatrice, marvelously portrayed by Gosz. More than any character, Beatrice is in a horrible Catch-22, having to decide who to side with. Gosz creates an incredibly sympathetic character who sees things so much clearer than Eddie. Her pleadings are heart-wrenching as she tries desperately to keep the family together.
Smurawa's Catherine transforms tremendously as she sees her family through new eyes once the immigrants arrive and her love for Rodolpho intensifies.
This trio is amazing to watch, and it only gets better with the arrival of Birdener's brooding Marco and Ludwig's flashy Rodolpho.
Boxhorn, a WCT veteran, is also wonderful in the role of the lawyer and narrator. His scenes provide a respite from the heaviness of the family scenes.
The play bogs down into lengthy exposition and cartoonish acting as immigration officers arrive on the scene, although the confrontation between Marco and Eddie is handled well. The disposal of a body at the end drew unexpected laughs during the show's final dramatic moments.
Scenic designer and master carpenter Michael Talaska chose a simple, yet effective, set for the Carbone dining/living area on most of the stage, and Alfieri's office off to the side. After the complex, rotating stage in the recent "Noises Off," this show contained no moving parts other than props which helped create a fast pace and seamless set changes.
Scott Fudali, the lighting designer, did a nice job creating evening scenes and defining outdoor street spaces in front of the Carbone apartment.
This was a fine way to end a successful season for WCT as it prepares for its 2014-15 season, which opens with the "Sound of Music."
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: "A View from the Bridge"
When: Through June 22; pay-what-you-can June 21
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Info: (262) 547-0708, www.waukeshacivictheatre.org
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