The Smooch Heard Round the World
When it first hit the stage, with its scene of a couple of men kissing each other, Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge freaked out 1950s audiences. It wasn't just the kissing, though—it was what that kiss symbolized within the smaller universe of the play itself. Half a century later, the kiss should be just as powerful. Unfortunately, this Center Theater production never does it justice.
The play was Miller's homage to Greek tragedy, exploring dock worker Eddie Carbone's sublimated sexual desire for his young niece—love that explodes when the girl falls for an attractive immigrant. In a performance that shows considerable range, Ramy Zada plays Eddie as a simple man choking on his own ignorance. Incest is only one of his sexual problems; he's also gay.
Eddie is a zero in the bedroom, and his wife is beginning to complain. He views the immigrant's warmth and sensitivity as everything he isn't, disparaging the young man's prettiness as "something not right," and in the play's most famous scene, he tries to demean the hapless guy by planting a man-to-man liplock on him.
Broadway's first male kiss shocked audiences then, and the intended humiliation behind it should still make us shudder. But under Shashin Desai's noncommittal direction, the smooch plays so quickly it never connects us to the buried shame.
It's a significant moment. The mocking kiss backfires on Eddie. Other characters talk about it angrily throughout the rest of the show, and it's one of two incidents that bring on the play's final flurry of violence. But in this production, it barely registers.
That blown moment makes the powerful, tragic events at play's end seem desultory. It fits into the Greek ethos—fate will fuck us despite our best intentions—but it also works against Miller's usual credo: we are responsible for our misdeeds and the chaos that comes from them.
The pathos of the play's chorus/narration also sends a mixed message: Are we supposed to assume it's Miller's viewpoint that there's something noble about Eddie's headlong rush into oblivion? That Eddie's resolute pursuit of "destiny"—even if it means violence, betrayal and death (a message echoed in Miller's earlier The Crucible)—is somehow something grand and heroic?
Desai's production has some brilliant moments, but as good as it is, the dated and ridiculous idea that there's something pure in self-destruction ain't one of them. It's so 1950s.
A View From the Bridge at the Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through May 20. $23-$35; $15 student rush tickets when available.
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