“My name is my name,” is one of the most resonant and memorable lines in the whole five series of The Wire, when street kingpin Marlo Stanfield realises not being told he has been called out by a rival – and thereby not knowing it’s happened – can have the same repercussions for a gangster’s reputation as deliberately dodging a challenge out of fear.
Proving the modern classic HBO series was merely keeping with American tradition, forty years earlier, Arthur Miller had explored the power of masculinity and hierarchy in a very similar way. “I want my name… he’s gonna give it back to me in front of this neighbourhood, or we have it out,” wails a broken Eddie Carbone towards the end of A View from the Bridge; his tormentor, Italian illegal immigrant cousin Marco – just one letter out.
Well, that’s enough A-Level essay type comparison for now – it just basically points out a common theme in American drama, and something at the heart of a lot of Miller’s work to boot.
This production of A View from the Bridge is directed by Charlotte Gwinner, who has been working with the Everyman and Playhouse for the last 12 months as the winner of the esteemed Quercus award, the idea being to provide up and coming directors with the chance to make the leap from fringe venues to established theatre spaces. And despite all the testosterone bubbling over in this play, this version is gentle and nuanced.
The play is the story of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who agrees to put up two of his wife’s cousins who have come over from Sicily illegally. But when one of them starts to fall for the niece he is a guardian of, emotions start to spin out of control.
Lloyd Hutchinson is simply fantastic as Carbone, his gentle Brooklyn lilt and hulking presence reminiscent of American character actor Ron Perlman (that’s basically another US TV reference, so apologies for all the pop culture 101 here). Worth admission price alone, as they say, he near meets his match in Shannon Tarbet as his coming-of-age niece Catherine, who is stunning in capturing the character’s naivete and slowly-creeping empowerment as she grows from girl to young woman. It was hard to take your eyes off either of them.
The play hangs on a few scenes dependent on masculine strength and displays of physicality – these could have literally packed more punch for a bit more of a shock factor; and Julia Ford as Eddie’s wife Bea, although a fine and reassuring presence throughout, seemed to need just a little more fire in the belly to prevent Bea from being little more than a plot device, locking horns with her husband. Paul Mahoney’s set gave the stage a large sense of scale, but didn’t quite make best use of all the space until the final scenes.
As the cousins Daniel Coonan’s Marco was a brooding and mysterious man’s man, while Andy Apollo as Rodolpho was the polar opposite, singing and charming the women of the house – but to what end? Liam Tobin and DeNiro lookylikey Mike Peters gave good Noo Yawk in small supporting roles, and it was good to see the production supporting new local talent as well (a member of the theatre’s youth company YEP was in the ensemble).
This A View from the Bridge gives audiences a real masterclass from seasoned stage actor Hutchinson, while Tarbet and Gwinner prove themselves real names to watch in future.
A View from the Bridge runs at the Playhouse until April 19.
Photo: Stephen Vaughan