State Theatre Company of SA. Dunstan Playhouse. 16 Jul 2019
There are those nights in the theatre when one feels greatness in the room. Special nights.
The opening night of State Theatre’s A View from the Bridge was one such. Not only is Arthur Miller’s play a superbly written work which endures the decades almost flawlessly but also because this is one helluva production in which Mark Saturno gives one of those breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime performances. He is pure, passionate, focused and connected.
While his years in America may have honed a nigh-perfect Brooklyn accent, there is only heart and the insight of human otherness which could underscore Saturno’s devastating bravura performance as Eddie Carbone, the complex anti-hero of this now-classic tragedy. Saturno is Eddie and his frustrations and fixations sear into the audience's emotional core.
After their positive storm of applause, opening night audience members were turning to each other to further share the wow factor, pausing on the stairs, unready to let it go. They had just experienced a grand melodramatic climax, one which could be looked upon as an aged narrative cliché. Everyone knew it had to be coming. And yet their hearts had been in their mouths. They were, as one, gripped by the unbearable inevitability of it all.
Director Kate Champion may now preen her feathers at delivering this fabulous piece of theatre with such intensity and freshness. Supporting her vision, Jason Sweeney’s skills provide a masterful soundscape, just there insightfully highlighting moments and never ever showing off. As for Victoria Lamb's set: it is utterly brutalistic. One could not call it likeable at all. It is a towering maze of marine ropes and pulleys with box frames of assorted sizes which can lift and lower, but are grouped together not only for the impression of a harsh working waterfront but also as the play's claustrophobic slum tenement in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Champion has allowed nothing to soften its austerity, not even Beatrice’s tablecloth or coffee pot. There are no props apart from one chair’s brief but pertinent appearance; just the effects of Chris Petridis’s moody lighting which provides a misty depth of field to that hulking great set. The actors have to clamber through and over it, hanging off the ropes and dragging bits of it here and there to suggest seating. It seems perilous hard work at times and yet one finds oneself accepting its heartless aesthetic. The conviction of the characterisations has captured the imagination.
Superb performances emerge from all the cast members as they deliver Miller's story of illegal immigrants, family, Italian cultural mores, love, and emotional fixations. The play may have been written and set in the 1950s, but the themes remain apposite. Indeed, (spoiler alert) the once-controversial homosexual moment is actually quite electric as delivered in this stunner of an interpretation.
Elena Carapetis continues to thrill as a consummate actor, here playing Eddie’s wife, a loving, welcoming, and stoic soul playing host to her cousins from Italy. She suffers in the shadow of her husband’s mawkish preoccupation with her orphaned niece, Catherine. Where the script does not give words to her plight, Carapetis’ face communicates riven private emotions. She adorns the stage with exquisite nuance and, at the play’s most terrible ending, she is the power of human grief. She’s a worthy foil to the dramatic might of Mark Saturno and vice versa.
The only muted presence onstage is Bill Allert as Alieri, the lawyer. He lurks in the shadows among the ropes and boxes, coming sometimes front of stage as chorus to extrapolate and sometimes being sage to rein in the emotional turmoil of Eddie Carbone.
Antoine Jelk has been well cast as the blond Italian pretty boy Rodolfo who steals the heart of his ingenuous cousin Catherine. He has come illegally to the US with his brother Marco, to find a better life. Jelk develops the character effortlessly albeit his accent is just a tad unspecific. Dale March plays the dark horse of the cast, his desperate brother Marco, who slaves to send money to his wife and sickly starving children. March plays Marco as a gaunt powerhouse, credible and pitiable. Meanwhile, Maiah Stewardson bounces blithely as Catherine, the impressionable teenage fly in the ointment of psycho-sexual family tensions. She delivers a character of naiveté and wilfulness, skittish and sweet. Arthur Miller could have asked for no more.
And nor could Adelaide.
This production is simply breathtaking, a Champion's winner.
When: 16 Jul to 3 Aug
Where: Dunstan Playhouse