Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Eddie Carbone—the focus of this 1950s Arthur Miller drama—is a man burdened by lost dreams and unfulfilled passions. He's also bound by the concept of duty—duty to family, duty to society, and duty to self. Laboring under the convergence of these responsibilities, hardworking Eddie is beset by the challenge of reconciling his own desires with the expectations that his family and others have set for him. It's a dilemma that draws a discernible parallel to Loman's struggles.
But the similarities between these two patriarchs pretty much ends there. Unlike the subtly compelling Loman, former immigrant Carbone is a rather flat protagonist housed in a formulaic script that never persuasively develops the human tragedy at its core. Hampered by bouts of heavy melodrama and mostly underdeveloped supporting roles, this Miller saga turns out to be a less richly developed depiction of individualism, family ties, and the elusive American dream.
Nevertheless in this revival director Penelope VanHorne and her cast work around the flaws to create a largely stimulating illustration of Carbone's troubles, which begin when relatives from Italy illegally seek refuge in his Brooklyn home. Conflict ensues when Eddie's beloved niece, Catherine (Sophie Areno), falls in love with Rodolpho (Brandon Ryan Puleio), one of the young immigrants. It's an intolerable situation for stern Eddie (Joseph Anthony), who has envisioned a better future for her. More important, however, Catherine's fateful choice forces Eddie to take a closer look at his own ambitions and decisions. But it's a self-discovery that comes with a high price and results in tragedy for the entire Carbone household.
Unquestionably the best asset in this production is Anthony's portrayal. Convincingly adopting the rough New York lingo of this working-class longshoreman, Anthony's expressive countenance aptly conveys the anxieties of a man at war with his sense of obligation and his own unnamed needs. His supporting cast is likewise strong. Arino ably captures Catherine's confused sense of allegiance to her uncle, while Jill Cary Martin, as Eddie's wife, Beatrice, subtly communicates Beatrice's long-suffering acquiescence to Eddie's overwhelming personality.
VanHorne's direction consistently maintains a taut pace, further heightening the tension. The result is a production that—despite Miller's contrived script—often sizzles with a portentous, edgy tone.
"A View From the Bridge," presented by and at Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. Aug. 17-Sept. 15. $15. (714) 526-8007.