* by Arthur Miller * directed by Michael Mayer * Roundabout Theater, New York City

“The guy ain’t right . . . He has blond hair . . . He looks like a chorus girl . . . He sings . . . He cooks . . . If ya close the paper real fast, you could blow him over!” The litany of sniping remarks that Brooklyn dockworker Eddie Carbone makes about his wife’s immigrant cousin Rodolpho is a virtual catalogue of gay stereotypes. What makes Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge famous in the history of gay representation in the theater is that in 1955, when the play premiered on Broadway, such insinuations were indeed lethal weapons. For the audience, the climactic moment when Eddie attempts to “prove” Rodolpho’s queerness by planting a kiss on his lips could not have been more horrifying if he’d hacked him to death with a machete.

There are no acknowledged homos onstage in View, yet the play was widely considered to be “about” homosexuality, so much so that the Lord Chamberlain, England’s puritannical public censor, initially banned the play from the London stage. Today we understand that the play is about (among other things) homophobia, a term that hadn’t entered public discourse in 1955. Consumed with guilty desire for his teenaged niece Catherine and insecure about his inability to perform sexually with his wife Beatrice, Eddie turns to gay-bashing rather than face the painful truth about himself.

Michael Mayer’s superb revival at the Roundabout Theater reveals layers of psychological complexity that productions of Miller’s plays hardly ever touch. Rodolpho is often cast and played as vaguely effeminate, allowing the audience to consider that Eddie’s accusations might be justified. Here, Rodolpho (Gabriel Olds) is unquestionably straight. But he’s no knight in shining armor: when he tells Catherine “Don’t cry . . . you’re my little girl now,” the director lets us see that Rodolpho has the same infantilizing, patriarchal attitude toward women that Eddie does.

As someone who usually finds Miller’s plays corny and over-earnest, I have to admit that this production gave me new appreciation for the richness of his characters. In Anthony LaPaglia’s excellent performance, you see that Eddie’s driven not by malevolent ignorance but by stunted passion, his relentless denial of which fills the room with almost unbearable tension. He’s more than matched by Allison Janney’s awe-inspiring turn as Beatrice, who calls Eddie on his shit without ever surrendering her compassion or her dignity. Twenty-year-old Brittany Murphy, making her Broadway debut as Catherine, embodies adult flirtatiousness dangerously wrapped around a child’s need for affection. After a string of gay roles (from starring in Angels in America to getting kissed by Bruce Willis in The Jackal), Stephen Spinella transforms himself into the tough-talking lawyer Alfieri who doubles as the play’s Greek chorus and Eddie’s priest/therapist.

When the play first apeared, it was viewed as a parable about McCarthyism. Eddie’s ratting on Rodolpho to immigration authorities was the equivalent of “naming names.” Given such topicality, you might expect A View from the Bridge to be hopelessly dated. Just the opposite is true. After all, betrayal wasn’t limited to the ‘50s. Nor was homophobia and the havoc it wreaks on a household and a community.

The Advocate, February 17, 1998

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