Nov. 10 2010 12:00 AM

Strong acting illuminates shattering 1950s drama




Those who watched TV in the 1950s memorized the phrase, “There are 8 million stories in ‘The Naked City’ — this is just one of them ... .” While far more eloquent than any of the “Naked City” episodes, Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” is, oddly, also a lot like one of them.

Written in 1955, it employs the device of a detached narrator (Lansing Community College alumnus Jack Dowd) introducing the basic plot, a Sicilian-American socio-drama with all the passionately vindictive elements of an Italianate word: opera.

At the core of this story is the fragmented nuclear family of dockworker Eddie Carbone, a pugnacious, chip-on-his-shoulder, bantam-rooster kind of a guy made up of equal parts street-survival grit and an oblivious lack of self-awareness.

David Dunckel plays Eddie fast and furious, mercurial in temper, yet oafishly tender as he tries to protect his 17-year-old niece, Catherine, from coming of age. Dunckel’s use of awkward body language accurately conveys the syrupy mix of feelings that Eddie has for his niece, a conflicted cocktail of barely suppressed sexual attraction beneath a veneer of genuine caring for her during her emergence from adolescence.

Eddie’s wife, Beatrice, however, is no fool, and recognizes that something has to happen to allow Catherine to move on up and out into adulthood. Enter Beatrice’s two male cousins, fresh off the boat from Sicily.

As portrayed by Rebecca Lane, Beatrice is a very authentic Italian New Yorker, passionate, opinionated, yet wiser in years by far than Eddie, who struggles, seemingly unconsciously, with an issue beyond his capabilities to understand.

When younger cousin Rudolfo starts to sing with a flourish to charm young Catherine, Eddie is quickly threatened and becomes antagonistic towards what appears to be a budding romance. Rudolfo is played by Ben English, who presents a playful and unabashed adolescent attitude combined with imaginative storytelling about his exploits around the world with his elder brother, Marco.

The opera begins to take form. Kathryn Renaldi-Smith is Catherine, and displays an innocence that was probably more present in 17-year-olds in 1955 than it is now. While Catherine is infused with gushy touchy-feely passion, she is not self-conscious about this, nor does she have a clue about the discomfort this causes Eddie. Renaldi-Smith plays this duality quite well and makes her character entirely believable.

Alec Nagy, as Marco, rounds out the drama. Nagy presents Marco as rock-solid and steady at first, before beginning his slow disintegration into pure Sicilian vendetta. It’s difficult on stage to show flashing black eyes filled with a simmering rage, but Nagy smolders his way through it with a tension that ultimately explodes into the tragic ending of the play.

Bartley H. Bauer continues his unbroken string of exquisitely effective sets, highlighting a huge replica of the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, looking down onto the utterly miniscule Carbone kitchen and the street outside their apartment building.

This production of “A View from the Bridge” manages to capture the sensibilities of immigration issues of the 1950s, yet it also allows the audience to realize that not much has changed when it comes to those attitudes over the past 55 years. Nor has much changed when it comes to the struggles of coming-of-age in America.

’A View From the Bridge’

Lansing Community College Theatre at Dart Auditorium 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 13 "Stages of the Law" talkback following the Sat., Nov. 12 performance $10; $5 students, seniors and LCC staff and faculty (517) 372-4636