A view to pensively gaze upon | Sunday Observer

A view to pensively gaze upon

13 November, 2016
Mayanthi de Silva as Catherine in the Brooklyn neighbourhood

On 7 October occupying seat Q-7, I watched veteran theatre practitioner Jerome L. de Silva’s rendition of Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, under the gentle darkness at the Wendt. Theatregoers, acquainted with what is usually notable as stagecraft that characterizes productions by de Silva and his theatre company, such as, The Workshop Players, would have no doubt found the ‘visual’ impression delivered by this play noticeably different.

Stagecraft was designed to deliver a figurative impression with a touch of modernism as opposed to the realist mode. Stage space was utilized in ways less akin to realist theatre. The household of Eddie Carbone, the streets of Brooklyn, lawyer Alfieri’s chambers, all unfolded within a common set up that featured no fixtures specifically meant to define a house or office or the outdoors. This production thus presented a spot of experimentation at work with respect to stagecraft which was successfully pulled off, together with the lighting and costumes that compose the visual factor of the play.

A View from the Bridge was delivered with a schema of accents that directed the state of the characters with respect to their status as well as their ethno national specifics. Anuk de Silva who played the role of the narrator Alfieri, a lawyer of Italian immigrant origins spoke his lines with a crisp top-notch Sri Lankan Standard English enunciation, with not a single fibre of stylised elocution that flirts with British English. Now, that was pronunciation worth saluting, and worthy of all Sri Lankans to note what could be emulated by our youth in the face of the national need to develop better English language skills. Lihan Mendis and Rehan Amaratunga playing Marco and Rodolpho, respectively, spoke English in an ‘Italiano’ mould indicating that their characters were Sicilian, by not just deed or visage, but also diction. The Carbone household had an American accent of the Brooklyn tone which gave me a slight reminiscence of how actor Tony Danza used to speak on the much loved ‘80s family sitcom Who’s The Boss.

Kanishka Herat, as a stage actor showed, he is capable of diversity through AView from the Bridge. He has proven his talent in several comedies over the past couple of years, but his performance as Eddie Carbone showed a new vein and a breath of thespian mettle for characterization. Sustaining a convincing Brooklyn accent for over two hours is by no means an easy task for a Sri Lankan.

Herat and the directorial hand that moulded the phonology of a Brooklyn longshoreman deserve specific applause for this facet. What was interesting to note about characterizing Carbone as per diction in the play, was how Herat’s accent took on an Italian stylistic amid the heat of the rage and scuffle with Marco which happens towards the end of the play. This switch to me was a show of how the Sicilian roots in Carbone surfaced to speak that he carries in his blood the spirit of his origins and perhaps that Americanism sports is possibly more veneer than vein.

I wondered why in the light of an Italian-American neighbourhood being brought to life, Anuk De Silva spoke the way he did. He was supposed to portray an American, wasn’t he? I reason that it is possibly a statement of status, of the character of Alfieri as a sophisticated learned professional who stands above the rest of ‘his people’. Through the manner of his speech alone Alfieri was clearly portrayed as a figure of a higher rung in the social strata. This directorial tactic as I see it played on the Sri Lankan perception that the more closer a person’s English is to being Standard English, he is more sophisticated, and from a more socially privileged background. Alfieri thus strikingly stood out through not only his tone, and persona but also his diction as a superior being amid the working-class ‘pedestrians’ of that Brooklyn neighbourhood.

Mayanthi de Silva, a relative newcomer to the stage of English theatre delivered a commendable performance as Catherine, Eddie’s orphaned niece. Her development of character showing young girlish chirpiness to bitter loathing, when the change of situation along the storyline required so, was convincing. Given the function of Marco as a character in the story, de Silva’s casting decision for the role was excellent. Lihan Mendis proved he can show the element of menace from his visage as well as posing as an insurmountable force of physical strength when the narrative demanded it, while also delivering a sober, congenial persona within the Carbone household at the outset, before relations turned sour.

Overall I would say, A View from the Bridge wove a fabric of performance rather well, with a host of young talent whose interplay among them showed general symmetry of acting talent. It’s a story about identity and the politics of ethnic identity, and loyalties of community and domain, as well as how ‘territoriality’ carries ties to ‘maleness’ and ‘manliness’. It is also a story about how loyalties and gratitude play a role within the family fold among kinsmen, in the wake of prospects that relate human desires. Given the element of menace and aggression that gets played on stage, and also the fact that Eddie in a quarrelsome moment to brand Rodolpho, a homosexual, plants a full frontal French kiss on the young Sicilian’s lips, makes me wonder if this is a stageplay for the whole family, especially, where preteens are concerned.

Immigrants and émigrés have become a crucial subject in world politics and a hard hitting issue in election campaigns that indicate how it may even determine the direction of domestic polity in some countries. A View from the Bridge in this light shows the turbulence within those communities and can possibly engender local discourse about what enclaves of migrants could be conceived as; now that a visible influx of migrants from certain countries since of late has caught the attention of Sri Lankans in general, while also bearing in mind the possibility of a future government policy to promote the opening of our domestic labour market to neighbouring countries.

The main cast on the evening of 7 October consisted of, Kanishka Herat as Eddie Carbone, Dinushka Jayawickreme as Beatrice, Mayanthi de Silva as Catherine, Rehan Amaratunga as Rodolpho, Lihan Mendis as Marco and Anuk de Silva as Alfieri. Jerome L. de Silva andThe Workshop Players must be applauded for their creative rendition of a modern American classic such as A View from the Bridge.

Pix: Shehal Joseph