I received the gorgeous little Penguin edition of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge for my birthday. Despite only having read two of his plays to date (rather predictably Death of a Salesman and The Crucible), I count Miller amongst my list of favourite playwrights. The foreword in this volume was penned by the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman, and an introduction written by Miller himself has also been included. Of A View from the Bridge, Nicholas Hynter, director of the Royal National Theatre, says: ‘[it] will always stand with the masterpieces of Ibsen, Shakespeare and Sophocles’.
Written in 1955, the play, which was based upon a tale Miller was once told, tells of Italian Eddie Carbone, and is a ‘tragic masterpiece of the inexorable unravelling of a man’. Miller speaks the way in which A View from the Bridge was ‘generally regarded as rather cold’ at first, and failed to find a large audience upon its initial Broadway run. The version of the play which is currently in print has been revised by its author, who writes, ‘I was tired of mere sympathy in the theater. The spectacle of still another misunderstood victim left me impatient… I wanted to write in a way that would call up the faculties of knowing as well as feeling’.
In his foreword, Hoffman writes engagingly of Miller’s work: ‘Here we find the true compassion and catharsis that are as essential to our society as water and fire and babies and air… Miller awakened in me the taste for all that must be – the empathy and love for the least of us, out of which bursts a gratitude for the poetry of these characters and the greatness of their creator’.
In A View from the Bridge, immigrant Eddie Carbone is living in a tattered Brooklyn tenement in a rundown neighbourhood with his wife, Beatrice, and niece, Catherine. In and around this location is where all of the action takes place. Eddie is a longshoreman, ‘working the docks from Brooklyn Bridge to the breakwater where the open sea begins’. Beatrice is thrilled when her Italian cousins make it off the boat in New York; Eddie less so. Miller has captured Beatrice’s reaction perfectly: ‘I’m – I just – I can’t believe it! I didn’t even buy a new tablecloth; I was gonna wash the walls -‘. A nice subplot regarding Catherine’s intention to leave school early and take up a position as a stenographer has also been inwoven. The play opens with a long monologue spoken by Alfieri, a lawyer. He talks directly to the audience, giving the context of the scene which he is both a part of and separate from. Alfieri is essentially used in place of a Greek chorus; he serves much the same function.
I very much admired the way in which Miller simply yet thoroughly set his scenes; his stage directions are precise, and immediately begin to build realistic pictures in the reader’s mind. As with Death of a Salesman, the very notion of the American Dream and its failures are brought to prominence. Thematically, A View from the Bridge is fascinating. The dialogue between the more minor characters does tend to be a little repetitive at times, but the entire play is so measured and precise.
Miller’s main aim in translating the original story to the stage, and the way in which he interpreted the action, were for the following purpose: ‘by knowing more than the hero, the audience would rather automatically see his [Eddie Carbone’s] life through conceptualized feelings’. Of his revision, he rather insightfully states that ‘Eddie is still not a man to weep over; the play does not attempt to swamp our audience in tears. But it is more possible now to relate his actions to our own and thus to understand ourselves a little better not only as isolated psychological entities, but as we connect to our fellows and our long past together’. For all of these reasons, and arguably for many more, A View from the Bridge is an incredibly powerful play, which I would highly recommend.