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Author: Tony Urgo

“A View from the Bridge”: Heartfelt, Compelling, at Pear Theatre, Mountain View

“A View from the Bridge”: Heartfelt, Compelling, at Pear Theatre, Mountain View

Arthur Miller’s Italian Immigrant Drama Still Meaningful Today

by Tony Urgo

Arthur Miller’s “A View From The Bridge,” first performed in 1956, is now over 60 years old. The cultural tragedy is that its themes of illegal immigration and social intolerance have returned. These themes resonate strongly in Pear Theatre’s production, but the heart and soul of the story belong to the superb ensemble cast, which brings the characters vividly to life.

Director Ray Renati has infused the production with a naturalism that preserves its setting and tone in 1950s Brooklyn. Renati choreographs the actors to suggest the unseen beyond the minimal set: a home, a family, a town, and a culture that reflect the present and the past. The Brooklyn docks are evoked early on, when two men converse at a corner of the stage under a narrow light. You can almost see the gangways and crates behind them, and the hulking shadow of a freighter.

Marjorie Hazeltine, Richard Holman, Geoff Fiorito, and April Culver in “A View from the Bridge”

Of Italian heritage, Eddie Carbone (Geoff Fiorito) follows the cultural tradition of helping his fellow countrymen get a foothold in America, taking them into his home when they arrive illegally from Italy to find work as fellow dockworkers. Some will stay, seeking citizenship; others will return to Italy, having made enough money to improve their lives. The new arrivals— young, exuberant Rodolpho (Anthony Stephens) and older, quieter Marco (Drew Reitz)—are grateful to the Carbones for their generosity and support. Eddie and his wife Beatrice (Marjorie Hazeltine) welcome them, put them at ease. Eddie and Beatrice advise the immigrants to work hard and keep a low profile and things will work out. Unfortunately, the illegal immigrants run up against an unexpected force in Eddie Carbone, their benefactor.

Although Beatrice embraces her daughter’s first love for the optimistic, and flamboyant Rodolpho, Eddie sees this development as a burgeoning nightmare. At first this appears at odds with all that Eddie is doing for these men, but he grows jealous of Rodolfo and the warmth of welcome dissipates. Arthur Miller has written such a rich and complete character in Eddie, who can be generous and loving, but also selfish and hateful—and Fiorito does justice to the great role. We understand Eddie and cannot hate him, though he does hateful things. Fiorito gives us an Eddie who expresses great warmth, and falls into deep darkness.

Marjorie Hazeltine, Anthony Stephens, April Culver, and Drew Reitz in “A View from the Bridge”

The entire cast is remarkable for their effective and affecting portrayals. Catherine (April Culver), the daughter on the cusp of her adult life, is convincingly swept off her feet by her new love. Though naïve and optimistic, she is also self-aware and more than capable of defending her Rodolfo. Her internal conflict and dilemma becomes palpable when she defies Eddie, to whom she tries to remain loyal.

Beatrice, the practical and dutiful wife and mother to this working class family, in pivotal moments reveals an insight and wisdom into the inner workings of her husband and daughter that they cannot see in themselves. She is the true anchor of the Carbone family and Marjorie Hazeltine’s portrayal is simply riveting.

Miller employs Alfieri (Brian Levi), an immigration lawyer and family friend, as the narrator, acting as a Greek chorus while befriending the Carbones with his forthright counsel. Levi portrays Alfieri with strength, confidence and also a great sympathy for all that transpires.

Geoff Fiorito and Anthony Stevens in “A View from the Bridge” at the Pear Theatre

Supporting this core family are also outstanding performances by Drew Reitz and Anthony Stephens as the older, maturer Marco and the younger, free-spirited Rodolpho. Reitz wears Marco’s solidity and quietness with an assured centeredness as much as Stephens allows all of Rodolpho’s exuberant personality to shine.

Eddie’s buddy Louis (Anthony Silk) and an immigration officer (Rich Holman) are both evocative and familiar. Through them, we see the greater world of Brooklyn, the shipyards, the country.

Though this story is ultimately a tragedy, the remarkable ensemble cast, working on a spare stage in Pear Theatre’s intimate 99-seat space, bring the Carbone family and the people who enter their lives, their home and their street, into our own lives and into our hearts.

Geoff Fiorito, Marjorie Hazeltine, and April Culver in “A View from the Bridge”

“A View From The Bridge” by Arthur Miller, directed by Ray Renati, at The Pear Theatre, Mountain View, through Sunday, April 2, 2017. Info: thepear.org

Cast: April Culver, Geoff (Jeffrey) Fiorito, Marjorie Hazeltine, Rich Holman, Brian Levi, Drew Reitz, Anthony Silk, and Anthony Stephens.

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“Belleville” Lures Expats Out of Their Depth, at Custom Made Theatre, S.F.

“Belleville” Lures Expats Out of Their Depth, at Custom Made Theatre, S.F.

Amy Herzog’s Americans in Paris—with Baggage

 by Tony Urgo

 “Belleville” will take you from charming to chilling in a performance without intermission. The cast is excellent, embodying their characters fully. The lighting and sound is effective and immersive, and together with the understated set, drops us effortlessly into a busy immigrant neighborhood in Paris.

At first, Abigail (Alisha Ehrlich) and Zack (Justin Gillman), recently married, have set themselves up nicely as a young American expatriate couple in pursuit of their joint happiness. Their pursuit has brought them to Belleville, a vibrant and energetic tapestry of ethnicity and culture from the former French colonies, where they have rented a cozy apartment from a Senegalese couple, Alioune (Nick Sweeney) and Amina (Nkechi Emeruwak).

Alisha Ehrlich, Justin Gillman, and Nick Sweeney

Zack, a med student, works on pediatric AIDS research with Doctors without Borders, enabling their move to Paris, while Abigail tries her hand at teaching yoga. Zack’s impish insouciance and Abigail’s cheerful friendliness endear us to them, quickly. Ehrlich and Gillman sweetly embody their pluck and ambition, and their obvious love for each other.

Yet fractures in the American couple’s relationship, hidden and minor at first, reveal themselves and grow steadily and alarmingly. What at first appears trivial grows in significance. Their minor misunderstandings become larger cracks, undermining the foundation of their love and commitment. Ironically, the intense pursuit of their mutual happiness steers them down an increasingly wayward path.

Justin Gillman and Alisha Ehrlich

Amy Herzog has written touchingly and sensitively of two people who want to be a happy couple so much, yet sabotage their relationship in striving for it. As much as they want to be together and make their relationship work, it becomes increasingly possible that they may be as far apart from each other as the first letters of their names. Let’s say that honesty is not their prime virtue.

Alisha Ehrlich’s Abigail is both approachable and off-putting, often at the same moment. Although we remain sympathetic to Abigail, revelations about her strain our empathy. She requires meds to maintain emotional and mental balance. This is neither her fault nor her choice, but she also decides to go off the meds and she drinks more than she can handle.

Justin Gillman’s Zack draws us in as quickly, with his caring and concern for Abigail, while he secretly struggles with his own demons. He has not been forthcoming about himself,  his work,  or a certain matter of late rent payments.

Alisha Ehrlich and Justin Gillman

Like a loose thread that’s pulled, Zack makes the first step to a great unraveling. Our hearts go out to the floundering young couple, as they sink deeper into their own traps. We still wish them well, even when it becomes evident they may not deserve our faith .

The other couple in the play, Alioune and Amina, are as different from Abigail and Zack as night and day, and not just in terms of color. As whimsical and impulsive as Abigail and Zack are, to the point of recrimination, Alioune and Amina display dependable and stable traits. Despite their contrasting personalities and cultures, Alioune and Zack have nevertheless transcended their landlord and tenant roles, and bonded as friends.

Nick Sweeney and Nkechi Emeruwak

While the Americans descend into their emotional vortex, Alioune and Amina embody stability and a work ethic stereotypically attributed to English Protestants. Nick Sweeney provides Alioune with a quiet, forceful presence that contrasts with Zack’s swaying emotions. When his wife Amina appears, she matches Alioune’s generosity with her own assurance. Nkechi Emeruwak’s Amina presents clear, forceful actions, even more grounded than Alioune’s. The Senegalese couple form a bulwark against the emotional fragility of the Americans. In their presence, Abigail and Zack’s erratic orbits appear even more turbulent.

Nick Sweeney, Nkechi Emeruwak, and Justin Gillman

The Paris neighborhood of Belleville, today’s melting pot of immigrants and cultures, acts as the cauldron testing both couples’ commitment to themselves and to each other. Love can certainly thrive in “Belleville,” but not without a foundation of honesty and trust, and anything more than a romantic notion of what happiness is.

Abigail and Zack undergo painful revelations, and Belleville is the place to learn. But only if they are ready, and it’s not already too late. You have to see for yourself how playwright Amy Herzog brings their problems home to us—all the way from Paris.

Alisha Ehrlich and Nick Sweeney

“Belleville” by Amy Herzog, directed by M. Graham Smith, at Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco, through Saturday, January 28, 2017. Info: custommade.org

Cast:  Alisha Ehrlich,  Justin Gillman,  Nick Sweeney, and Nkechi Emeruwak.

 

Tony Urgo

Tony Urgo

Tony is a native New Jerseyan transplanted (quite voluntarily) to California. He studied filmmaking and playwriting at NYU but graduated with a graphic design degree from Parsons School of Design. He is a filmmaker, editor and media producer, active in the Bay Area independent film community.