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By | 2006-04-20T09:00:00-04:00 April 20th, 2006|Entertainment|

Review: ‘A View from the Bridge’

The view’s not pretty – but excellent

Remember that childhood tale, “The Little Engine That Could”? You know, the “I think I can, I think I can” little train that struggles to get over a huge mountain that larger engines wouldn’t go near?
Well, that’s how I’ve always pictured Ann Arbor’s Blackbird Theatre, a young, energetic and very likable production company with big dreams but limited resources. By offering an eclectic mix of classics and originals works, the Blackbird set out to carve a niche for itself in a struggling market. Sometimes they’ve been successful and other times not quite so, but I’ve always admired their tenacity to “play with the big boys.” Yet despite its abundant talent, the theater has never quite stepped up to the plate and scored with that one spectacular production that just knocked your socks off and left you speechless.
Until now, that is.
And they did so with “A View from the Bridge,” a rarely produced – at least locally – family drama by U of M alum Arthur Miller.
Set in Brooklyn during the 1950s, Miller tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a blue-collar dockworker who has raised his wife Beatrice’s beautiful, 17-year-old niece, Catherine, since childhood. At first, they appear to be a typical, loving Italian-American family, but the dynamics change when two male cousins arrive from the old country – illegally – looking for work. From the moment Marco and Rodolfo move into the Carbone household, Rodolpho and Catherine are attracted to one another – and their fast-developing relationship doesn’t sit well with the increasingly agitated and irrational Eddie. Finally, a fateful decision is made and secrets are revealed. And the tragedy predicted by family lawyer – and narrator/Greek Chorus – Alfieri comes to pass.
It’s an uncomfortable story given life by director Lynch Travis who allows the action to ebb and flow in total synch with the characters’ emotions and motivations. His excellent use of the space keeps the story moving without unnecessary interruptions for set changes, and the script’s climatic moments are powerfully choreographed.
His eye for casting is also perfect.
Linda Rabin Hammell is totally believable as a wife torn between the husband she loves and the girl she raised. It’s a portrayal that gives insight into the emotional turmoil that’s bubbling just below Beatrice’s surface.
Also notable are the newly-blonde Brian Thibault (Rodolpho), Kate Orr (Catherine) and Joe Colosi (Marco).
But it’s the subtle, tormented performance of Jon Bennett as Eddie that pushes this production to the top. Watch how he expertly uses his body language and eyes to provide insight into Eddie’s innermost thoughts, with nuances aplenty that could be easily missed by inattentive audience members. It’s an excellent performance from start to finish.
The production’s only flaw is rooted in the show’s ethnicity. As the grandson of Italian immigrants and son of a Brooklyn-born father – and who grew up in a neighborhood filled with similar people – I was stunned when Alfieri, played by Lee Stille, announced his Italian heritage. That’s because he sounded exactly like my longtime Turkish barber – and he wasn’t the only one to speak with an inappropriate Eastern European accent.
“A View from the Bridge” runs Thu.-Sat. at the Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline, Ann Arbor, through April 29, plus Sun., April 23. Tickets: $18. For information: 734-332-3848 or http://www.blackbirdtheatre.net.
The Bottom Line: Welcome to the majors, Blackbird Theatre!

Review: ‘The Late Great Henry Boyle’

Something bad happens to Henry; something great to Purple Rose

Who amongst us hasn’t met a highly intelligent, yet socially inept individual who couldn’t hold up his – or her – end of a polite conversation if their life depended on it?
That pretty much describes Henry Boyle, a professor of medieval studies and title character of a romantic comedy at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre Company, “The Late Great Henry Boyle.”
Henry, pretty much destroyed by the dissolution of his marriage, not only has withdrawn from humanity, but he now lives in his office and sleeps in a fetal position beneath his desk. And with the exception of his only friend in the entire world – a colleague, Winslow Saxonhouse – he’s totally alone, with only his dusty books to keep him company.
Concerned about his friend’s decline, Winslow convinces Henry – against his better judgment – to join him for a night on the town. It’s an evening that sets Henry down a path no one could ever foresee.
After much heavy drinking, it’s Winslow’s challenge to “write something” that piques Henry’s interest. So fueled by absinthe and armed with a television to serve as his inspiration, Henry sets out to write what becomes the mega-hit novel of the year.
But is the world ready for such an oddball celebrity? And how will an unstable and alcohol-driven Henry respond to the pressures and demands placed on him by the mass media? And to what lengths will he go to get out of the public eye?
Plus, how does Rachel – a pretty waitress he met that fateful night – fit into Henry’s crazy life?
“The Late Great Henry Boyle,” written by playwright and Livonia resident David MacGregor, serves as a very funny and creative indictment of today’s media and star-drenched society. Although MacGregor doesn’t plumb any new territory with his witty script, he does shed light on America’s bizarre obsession with pop culture. (Curious, however, is the playwright’s fascination with Boethius, an obscure sixth century philosopher that few have ever heard of. His average audience will much more likely appreciate his love for “Gilligan’s Island,” which I guess only proves his point!)
As with every other Purple Rose show in recent memory, direction by Guy Sanville is excellent, as is the set by Daniel C. Walker. And the performances? Well, you only expect the best from John Lepard (Henry), Paul Hopper (Winslow), Inga R. Wilson (Rachel), Wayne David Parker (Henry’s agent, Turk) and utility player Randall Godwin – and that’s what they deliver!
“The Late Great Henry Boyle” runs Wed.-Sun., at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea, through June 3. Tickets: $20-$35. For information: 734-433-7782 or http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: Yet another in a long string of top-notch productions at the Purple Rose!

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