It's difficult to imagine a more vivid, more pointed depiction of the complexity of the immigrant experience than Teatro Vista's ardent, intimate revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge," which opened upstairs at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater in Chicago Tuesday.
Set in 1950s Brooklyn, among undocumented Italian immigrants and their first-generation American counterparts, Miller's drama about lust and betrayal (a deliberate evocation of Greek tragedy) resonates even more profoundly in the hands of this acclaimed Latino theater company.
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"A View from the Bridge"★ ★ ★
Location: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 871-3000, victorygardens.org or teatrovista.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through May 18
Running time: About two hours, including intermission
Tickets: $25, $30
Parking: Metered street parking
Rating: For teens and older; contains mature themes.
The all-Latino cast plays the characters as Miller wrote them. But it's impossible to watch director Ricardo Gutierrez's first-rate production and not reflect on the challenges facing undocumented immigrants within the area's Hispanic community.
That's the point, of course. And Miller addresses those challenges. The core issue is economic: America's promised prosperity entices people to leave their impoverished homelands to provide financially for their families. Miller also shows us the established immigrant community -- naturalized citizens, cash-strapped themselves -- who sponsor and support newcomers, shielding them from authorities seeking to deport them. He also details (and debunks) the romanticized notion some second-generation immigrants have of the old country, which is not the paradise they imagine. Lastly, there are the challenges that underscore the play: the struggle to reconcile old ways and new, let go of the past, modify long-held perceptions and temper one's passion.
That tension is especially evident in Gutierrez's taut, well-paced, solidly acted production. It falters only near the end, when a fussy and annoying bit of stage business (involving the movement of furniture) diverts our attention from a climactic confrontation, which the cast makes gripping despite the inexplicable business.
The tragedy comes with its own Greek chorus in Alfieri, the lawyer/narrator played with wry compassion by the natty Mark Ulrich.
The story centers on Eddie Carbone, a coiled, compact, bulldog of a man played by the spot-on Ramón Camín. Eddie is a hardworking longshoreman living in a cramped Brooklyn tenement with his wife Beatrice (Sandra Marquez, always a force to be reckoned with) and her orphaned niece Catherine, whom the couple have raised from childhood. She's played by newcomer Ayssette Munoz, in a convincing transformation from giddy girl to determined woman.
The shift from the easy, affectionate relationship between 17-year-old Catherine and her ersatz parents, particularly father figure Eddie, is evident early on when the stenography student and aspiring secretary announces she's been offered an office job at a plumbing company. Overprotective Eddie balks, claiming the job isn't good enough and insisting she wait for an offer from a more prestigious company.
The fissures within the family deepen with the arrival of Beatrice's Italian cousins: family man Marco (Eddie Diaz) and his more flamboyant, younger brother Rodolpho (Tommy Rivera-Vega). Unable to find jobs in their impoverished village, the brothers have entered the U.S. illegally to find work. Marco intends to send his paycheck home to his wife and family, whom he hopes to rejoin in a few years. Rodolpho, determined to enjoy his financial independence, spends his money on clothes, records and Catherine, to the increasing irritation of Eddie, whose feelings toward Catherine have become distinctly unpaternal. Their nature seems to have eluded Eddie and Catherine, who is herself in love with the charming Rodolpho. But Eddie's feelings are not lost on Beatrice, who comprehends all too well her husband's unnatural interest in the girl.
Indeed, as Eddie and Beatrice, Camín and Marquez are among the great delights of this Teatro Vista production. He offers a performance of credible conviction, both familiar and real. The ever-intriguing Marquez proves once again to be an actress of great nuance and range. If Alfieri is the bridge from which we view this family tragedy, Marquez's Beatrice is the beacon that illuminates it.
"Whatever happened, we all done it," she says, placing the blame exactly where it belongs.