We won't tell you how Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridgeends. We shouldn't have to—like any classic tragedy, the ultimate ending (indeed, the most ultimate of all endings, if you get what we mean) is pretty much ordained from the curtain's rise, and it's on the agonizing unraveling of character and circumstance that the play really turns. Call it destiny, call it instinct, call it what you will, but it's that time bomb ticking away inside all the great tragic protagonists that really powers a play like this—and in this Vanguard Theater production directed by Penelope Van Horne, that portentous ticking just keeps getting louder and louder.
Miller wrote Bridge in 1955 (after hitting it big with The Crucible and before hitting it bigger by hooking up with Marilyn Monroe), hoping to transpose a classic Greek tragedy to a classic American setting: good ol' Brooklyn, USA, where burly longshoreman Eddie Carbone is as doomed by his own fatal flaws as any toga-clad schlep who ever staggered the streets of Thebes. He's a standup guy, this Carbone, drags boxes off freighters all day long to feed his wife, Bea, and winsome niece Catherine, doesn't ask much in return, even cheerfully—as cheerfully as a burly Brooklyn longshoreman can muster, at least, which ain't much—agrees to harbor two of Bea's Italian cousins when they're fresh off the boat and looking for work. And of course, it's a holocaust waiting to happen: boiling under all Carbone's sprightly "dems" and "dose" is a vitriolic mess of betrayal, lies, honor, blood, lust and wince-worthy incest. Man, nothing says Greek tragedy like a little incest.
Vanguard newcomer Joseph Anthony seethes with the best of them as Carbone, imbuing the longshoreman's inborn artlessness with a necessary and uncomfortable intensity. Bridge is very much a play demanding particular attention to what goes unsaid, and Anthony's meticulous attention to Carbone's every movement deftly illuminates the swelling frustrations within. Brandon Ryan Puleio (Rodolpho) and Jorge Cordova (Marco) deliver comparably measured performances as the two Italians wedged into Carbone's life; the tense and easily unbalanced triangle among the three functions nicely as the pivot for the final act and the doomed denouement that's been so long coming. Sophie Areno's fragile Catherine and Jill Cary Martin's Bea might sometimes fade under Anthony's occasionally overpowering stage presence, but that's as it should be: as Carbone's swan dive into tragedy begins its arc, it's the uneasy dynamic shifts between Anthony and the rest of the cast that let us more closely examine Carbone's self-destruction.
And in the end, the devil is in the details: charged with a plot not so much predictable as inevitable, the cast of Vanguard's Bridge must—and does—rely on sheer strength of character to carry the production. Apropos to the Italians illegally sleeping on Carbone's floor, Bridge is a play in which everything must stay hidden at all costs, lest revelation lead to ruination. Which, of course, it does—and how! But by cultivating an almost palpable sense of powerlessness against fate, this production of Bridge stays faithful to both Miller and 2,000 years of Greek drama. After all, it's a tragedy, and we all know how those end: somehow, someone's gotta die.
A View From the Bridge at Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699-A State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-8007. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Sept. 15. $5-$17.