Love, lust and moral confusion

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Miller's play wrestles with some of the trickier family values. Timothy Ramsden reports.

A View from the Bridge. By Arthur Miller. Bolton Octagon Theatre. January 26 to February 25. Tel: 01204 520661. www.octagonbolton.co.uk

It's been a hard life for New York longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who has had to hustle for work, while his wife Beatrice supports him at home.

In a tight-knit Catholic Italian-American community, their childlessness has been a factor as Eddie is part of this community and its values. Two arrivals spoil things.

His niece, Catherine, has been brought up as the Carbones' daughter and, as she becomes a young woman, a worm of lustful obsession for her afflicts Eddie. Then two cousins arrive as illegal immigrants. Marco just wants to make money before returning home. But Rodolpho, fair-haired, amusing, popular with the longshoremen, wants to stay.

Rodolpho is, says Octagon director Mark Babych, the model for a successful American businessman in 20 years, buying as he does into the American dream. But Rodolpho arouses Eddie's jealousy in double measure. He becomes more popular among the longshoremen - and Catherine is attracted to him, leading Eddie to break traditional codes of honour. Eddie is aware of how he is behaving. At every step he could stop, but his obsession prevents him. He detaches from the outside world, focusing on his internal turmoil.

Repeatedly he is asked to listen but will not. The lawyer Alfieri talks of Eddie's eyes looking like tunnels (yet Alfieri also waits on events).

Babych talks of Eddie's complex "emotional geography". At the opening, "you see a family working, in the way he is with Beatrice and Catherine, though there are hints of what is to come. And Eddie makes his only right decision, to let Catherine go out to work. There is moral confusion between lust for his niece and love for his family. Negotiating the moments where love and lust meet is important. And there are moments of guilt in his relationship with Beatrice."

Babych notes the distinction between Marco, "very respectful of the household's codes of behaviour," and Rodolpho, who "is a whirlwind of fresh air through this stale household where things have not being going too well between Eddie and Beatrice lately. Catherine is swept up in it, Beatrice enjoys it too." Beatrice has brought up Catherine; now she has to find a way to warn her about Eddie. And Babych finds one test of how far Catherine journeys in the play: "When she says to Rodolpho, 'Teach me. I don't know anything,' we need to believe that moment." Catherine, on the cusp of adulthood, physically a woman but thinking like a child, has to learn to make rational, adult decisions.

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