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A View from the Bridge: The Poison of Honor

5 Dec

If you are planning to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge, I would encourage you not to read the following as even those familiar with the play will benefit from the shocks created by the staging.

For a year in college, I had a boyfriend who was tall and thin, more angular than delicate. I brought him home for Thanksgiving that year, and he slept, without argument on the floor of my parents living room, as they required. That they would not allow us to have a conversation in my bedroom with the door even  partially closed was the subject of argument, but only between myself and my father. The boy, a Southener, was achingly well-behaved.

Two days into the trip my parents informed me that they thought he was gay (he wasn’t), because he was thin. And it wasn’t what they wanted for me; that he’d give me AIDS. And they disinvited him from our home in which he was already staying in. Ashamed and awkward, I packed our things, and we drove back to Washington, D.C. A few months later, we’d broken up, because I was having an affair with barrel-chested man much older than me. That man had a wife too, but after the matter of the too skinny college boy, if I’d told my parents, they likely only would have been reassured.

It was with that story buried in a pretty large pile of weird, difficult drama in my Sicilian-Jewish family, that last night Patty and I went to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge. If you’re not familiar with the play, it tells the story of Eddie Carbone as he freaks out when Catherine,  the niece he raised as a daughter (and is now inappropriately attracted to), beings to date Rodolpho, a Sicilian immigrant who “just ain’t right” (he dances, he sings, he makes dresses, and he doesn’t fight back in a manner deemed correct when Eddie kisses him).

Sound familiar? Yeah.  I thought so too.

But despite having actually seen other productions of the play before, it had never registered to me just how much I knew this story personally. Mid 20th-century drama is often staged with stifling domesticity and focuses so much on the ordinariness of men that it becomes difficult to see how these stories actually revolve around non-male presences in the narrative.

Ivo van Hove’s production eschews naturalism for acute simplicity and an almost ritualistic performance of Greek tragedy. Opening with Eddie and another dockworker showering and dressing after a shift, the play immediately forces the audience to look at and appreciate male flesh in a way that was for me — again, raised in that Sicilian household — wildly uncomfortable.

To stare at a man way a man would stare at a woman is to feminize him, and this production of A View from the Bridge brings that home as all the characters assess the show’s men constantly — who is strong, who is desirable, who looks like a man should. The audience, made complicit in this gaze, squirms (truly, a highlight of seeing the show from the seats on stage — and this is where you should see it from) is hearing the bulk of the audience gasp, and even cry out in shock at several key moments. This was as extraordinary and terrifying as anything presented by the players.

While the emotional arcs of the play can seem peculiar, — Eddie, in particular, tends to go from 0 to 60 in rage — I can only say that the volatility felt truthful to the home I was raised in. The way Catherine shrinks into herself after these outbursts, I suspect also seems disproportionate to some audience members, but the reaction read to me as less to anger and more to volatility, and I should know, as a girl who can’t bear to be startled.

Perhaps most astounding though — other than how any actor can be asked to give the performance Mark Strong gives in this show 8 times a week — is the culmination of the show’s design, in which the shower that opens the show closes it, this time, with blood raining down into the final tableau of a melee in which Eddie is stabbed by one of the cousins. It’s a holy moment, at least if you’ve spent any time around the bloodily painted saint statues of Sicily. It’s also what should be an obvious moment — the water that rains down in the opening a gun that goes off with the blood raining down in the closing — but so wrapped up are we in the demand that we look at these characters, and their bodies, we miss it.

I should note, the blood, while surely some random theatrical compound, has a stench. Much like, one supposes, the poison of honor.

 

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2 Responses to “A View from the Bridge: The Poison of Honor”

  1. Doctor Science December 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    Thanks for making this expanded post. It really brings home the contradictions of this construction of masculinity, and how “the ordinariness of men” is a lie.

    “To stare at a man way a man would stare at a woman is to feminize him” — but unless they’re looking, how can Eddie (or your father) evaluate whether a man “looks gay”? I’ve never seen the play, but the summaries sure make it sound as though Eddie *wants* to look, as though part of what he hates Rodolpho for is that Eddie’s attracted to him.

    The other part, it seems to me, is due to the Hugh Jackman Effect. Eddie has brutalized himself to be like “Muscle & Fitness Jackman” because that’s what a man is supposed to be; if “Good Housekeeping Jackman” would have worked instead, it’s like his whole life is a lie.

    In the case of your family, I wonder how much of your parents’ crazycakes reaction was due to you being queer. In my experience, by the time a child is 18-20 a moderately observant parent who’s being honest with themselves will know if their kid is queer. (That’s one reason mothers are often more accepting of a kid coming out than fathers are: because mothers are traditionally the ones who pay attention, there’s a good chance the mom has put the pieces together before the kid works up the nerve to come out. Fathers are more likely to be blindsided.)

    Your parents’ reaction strongly indicates that both of them were in violent denial, and were projecting their worries about you onto your hapless boyfriend.

    • Racheline Maltese December 6, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      I guess the best shortest follow-up to that amazing story about my parents is in the ensuing argument about it next I saw them, I kept saying “that’s like saying I’m gay because I have a deep voice.” I was such a troll! 25 years later, my parents claim not to remember the incident, but say they believe me that it happened. Which also speaks volumes.

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