The FSU/Asolo Conservatory‘s A View from the Bridge is not the best known work of celebrated American playwright Arthur Miller, yet it deserves a space on the top shelf with such seminal works as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and All My Sons.
The play is set in post-WWII Brooklyn and surrounds an Italian-American couple assisting illegal immigrant family members from the old country to get set up in America. Eddie and Beatrice are already raising their niece Catherine (Amy Helms) when two male cousins from Sicily arrive to stay in their tiny one-bedroom apartment, while taking on work as a longshoreman with Eddie on the docks of Red Hook.
When one of the cousins begins to romance Catherine, Eddie takes umbrage. The situation devolves into a calamitous family quarrel that threatens to tear all of their lives apart. As director Andrei Malaev-Babel noted, the play is both a period piece as well as an examination of a cultural ancestry that dates back to the Sicilian Wars of Ancient Greece, complete with archaic mores and unwritten laws that all must follow.
The FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s production is perfectly cast from an extremely strong class of second year students and is delivered on such an impressive scale that it could easily be mistaken for an Asolo Rep product. Indeed, it is the best Conservatory play I can recall covering over the last six seasons, which says a great deal given the quality of that work.
Wes Tolman gives a spellbinding performance as Eddie, whose heart is worn on his sleeve in every scene. A combustible concoction of frustration, impotence, angst and tightly-tempered hope, he calls to mind Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and stays with for days after. Tolman manages to fill Eddie’s big work boots with just the right balance of bravado and vulnerability to convincingly pull off a pivotal and difficult role.
Amber Lageman turns in a stellar performance as Beatrice, Eddie’s beaten down and equally frustrated wife, who fears her husband’s feelings for her late sister’s daughter are transcending guardianship as she blossoms into a woman. Both Lageman and Tolman also manage to effect perfect Brooklyn accents which, together with a smartly-assembled set by Chris McVicker and the always period-perfect costumes of Becki Leigh, effectively transports the audience to a different time and place.
Aleksandr Krapivikin can’t quite manage the Sicilian accent but nevertheless turns in another solid performance this season as the stoic older cousin, Marco. Dustin Babin, who soared in Book of Days (review), is also again quite good as Marco’s little brother Rodolpho, whose eyes catch Catherine’s. First-year student Lawrence James is also notable in a very small role as an immigration officer.
Miller brilliantly employs the character of Alfieri, an attorney with a small but important role in the story, to narrate from a corner stage office in a way that gives the story greater depth and allows for the more precise examination of cultural themes. Alfieri is played by Andrew Bosworth, who was quite good in a very different role in the Conservatory’s opening production and again demonstrates stand-out talent here.
A View from the Bridge runs through January 15 in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.