Arthur Miller‘s plays are often about men. He told stories of their power and their demise both through circumstance and a lack of insight into themselves. He depicted men’s breakdowns and broken relationships, the persecutions they enforced and their inner struggles to be good. Most importantly, Miller teased out the impact that their actions had on others.
Wonderfully rendered in a performance at the Melbourne Theatre Company, A View from the Bridge is not Miller’s most famous play, but quintessential in his canon as he mines the crises of masculinity he saw in his male characters. Set in the 1950s near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, the drama sets out the events that occur when illegal immigrants arrive from Italy to be housed secretively by a couple, Eddie and Beatrice, who have brought up Beatrice’s orphaned niece, Catherine, as their child.
As the play unfolds, Eddie’s struggle to control his attraction to Catherine, now seventeen-years-old, reveals itself. When Catherine falls for one of the Italian arrivals, jealousy flares in Eddie. His desperation not to lose her causes him to do something he would never normally do. Against all his prior beliefs and values, against every previous trait of loyalty and honour and his anti-establishment view, he alerts the authorities about the “illegals”, Beatrice’s cousins, who are living in his small apartment. It is a betrayal the gritty, hard-working Eddie would never normally commit, an act he knows will mean ostracism from his community and a fall from grace with his wife, Beatrice.
It’s this, the reaches we will go in order to fulfil our desires, especially when they are unconscious because we find the facts around them abhorrent, that, for me, A View from the Bridge is about. Blindness to oneself is a common phenomenon. But what we do when we are in that state, varies. Certainly, what we can’t tolerate in ourselves we will subvert into action, action that, depending on our level of denial, can go against our beliefs and values, and can even hurt us. Rage and high emotion do not assist to analysis what’s happening, to uncover why we are doing what we are.
Of course, in A View from the Bridge, drama is afoot, and in the tradition of the theatre of ancient Rome, and what followed in the Greek tragedies and in Shakespeare’s high dramas, it ends with ultimate demise.