A View from the Bridge at Theatre Palisades and The Bespoke Overcoat at Pacific Resident Theatre

Beatrice, Marco, and Eddie react to seeing Rodolpho and Catherine together in A View from the Bridge. (Photo credit: Joy Daunis)

Theatre Palisades has a hit on their boards with a true-to-life production of Arthur Miller’s Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Olivier Award-winning play A View from the Bridge sharply directed by Cate Caplin, set in 1950s Brooklyn near the ocean-facing docks close to where hard-working longshoreman Eddie and his wife Beatrice live. The long-married couple have been lovingly caring for her 17-year-old niece Catherine since birth, although Eddie is having a real problem dealing with her transformation into a young woman looking for love elsewhere. And when Beatrice’s two Italian cousins Marco and Rodolpho arrive to stay with them to work on the docks, Eddie becomes consumed with raging jealousy when the innocent young girl falls for handsome younger cousin Rodolpho from the moment they meet. 

But Eddie “knows” the uneducated, poor illegal immigrant is not a good match for Catherine and is ready to pull out all the stops to prevent her from marrying Rodolpho just so he can get his green card and stay in America. As the situation takes a tragic turn, caught in the middle is Eddie’s loving wife Beatrice who is pulled in several directions at once, wanting what is best for everyone but obliged to take her husband’s side. As the stage is set for a brutal reckoning, the production delves into themes of love, immigration, and the consequences of personal desires and choices.

Playwright Miller has said he heard the basic account that developed into the plot of A View from the Bridge from a lawyer who worked with longshoremen and related it to him as a true story. Appropriately, the play is told through memories shared by Eddie’s lawyer friend Alfieri (Jason Culp), who introduces scenes we are about to witness, especially his meetings with Eddie as tempers flare, fully knowing Eddie will never listen to his good advice to allow Catherine to live her own life. Culp’s professional demeanor speaks to his character’s belief in the letter of the law.

Peter Gregory, a lifetime member of The Actors Studio, brilliantly channels Eddie in every aspect of his life, displaying both his tenderness towards Catherine before she falls for Rudolpho to his physical gruffness as he explains the pain he feels after losing respect from his family and community. It is an astounding real-life, Italian longshoreman Gregory brings to the stage, one who will both induce anger and deserve your sympathy. Caught in their push me-pull you struggle is the dressed to perfection Maria O’Connor as Eddie’s long-suffering wife Beatrice, who will summon you to cry with her as she gets caught between a rock and a hard place.

Young lovers Catherine and Rodolpho, portrayed with all the wonder of first love and heartbreak by Isabella DiBernardino and Darren M.B., will pull you into the reasons why these two deserve to be together as well as Eddie’s good reasons they should not be. Of course, any of us who have lived through a father forbidding his daughter to pursue the man she loves will be roused to anger and tears as the two cling to each other against all odds. DiBernardino absolutely manifests the realization of falling in love at first sight while M.B. encompasses not only the young Italian’s speech and movement patterns to a tee, but also his struggle to go against the wishes of the man who has offered him a place to stay in America. And we are pulled into watching helplessly as their joy turns into the darker side of human nature, namely the green-eyed monster filling Eddie’s heart.

As the married and quieter cousin Marco, handsome Monty Renfrow lets us know from moment-to-moment everything he is feeling without saying a word. After all, he just wants to work in America to send money home to his wife and three children in Italy, fearing upsetting the cart will destroy their chances for survival. His emotional outburst as the situation with Eddie rises to the boiling point will leave you gasping at the raw emotion so brilliantly captured onstage. Rounding out the cast in supporting roles are Andrew Chase, David T, Downs, Joshua Farrell, Christopher Landis, and Eric Shaffer who portray Eddie’s longshoremen friends and Immigration Officers.

Fifties costumes deigned by Michael Mullen heighten the realism of the play’s timeframe with Sherman Wayne’s stylistic set design offering all the necessary playing areas to tell Miller’s story. Lighting designed by Sherman Wayne and Clayton Collins often adds an eerie aspect to scene changes, alerting us that trouble is on the way. Kudos to Dialect Coach Glenda Morgan Brown for the play’s honest Brooklyn and Italian immigrant accents. Fight Choreographer Jen Albert adds authenticity to the men’s angry, physical power struggles. And, of course, director Cate Caplin has again proven her skill at engaging the audience from start to finish thanks to her perfect casting choices and brilliant scene pacing.

Immerse yourself in the emotional truth of this classic Arthur Miller play at Theatre Palisades’ Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades 90272. Produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne, A View from the Bridge runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sundays through April 28. Tickets are priced at $22 with a special rate of $20 for students and seniors, available by calling the box office at 310-454-1970 or visiting www.theatrepalisades.org  Free parking available on site and in the surrounding neighborhood. 

Robert Lesser as Morry and Harry Herman as Fender in The Bespoke Overcoat at Pacific Resident Theatre. (Photo credit: James Morris)

Wolf Mankowitz’s The Bespoke Overcoat, inspired by Nicolai Gogol’s famous short story, The Overcoat, centers on a long-suffering, poor warehouse clerk who seeks to obtain a new overcoat. Immediately hailed as one of Britain’s most exciting young playwrights when the play opened in London in 1953, Mankowitz adapted it into a film that won the Oscar at the 29th Academy Awards for Best Short Subject Film in 1957. As the son of a Jewish bookseller in London’s East End, Mankowitz was a prolific dramatist, novelist, and screenwriter known for depicting acts of humanity in a flawed but fascinating world. Reset by Mankowitz into the Jewish East End of London, his play about an aging clerk who can’t afford a new overcoat is a tale of love and resilience told with dignity and humor. And in the hands of co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, assisted by Jody Fasanella, the current production of The Bespoke Overcoat at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice speaks directly to the heart and soul of what it means to be friends and care for each other like family, no matter the obstacles in this life or the next.

The cast is led by the incredibly talented actor Robert Lester as Morry, who immediately sets the tone of garment workers in the poor East End section of London in the 1930s by describing the situation he faced attempting to honor Fender (Harry Herman), the poor warehouse clerk for whom he made an overcoat 22 years ago. Fueled by guilt over Fender passing away from the cold before his new overcoat could be finished and given to him, Morry is visited by Fender from the other side who forgives him for the delay, but asks the tailor to assist him in breaking into Mr. Ranting’s (Bruce Nozick) garment factory where he worked for 43 years, just to get the overcoat “owed to me” so he can finally rest in peace.

As Morry and Fender team up to accomplish the deed, stories are shared from their past business relationship as customer and tailor, Fender’s emotional and physical suffering at the hands of Ranting, as well as what is going on in Ranting’s factory now with his new and younger clerk (Tobias Echeverria) not as dedicated to doing the job as well as Fender did for so many years. Frustrated by his new clerk’s desire to develop his muscles to attain the title of Mr. Universe, Ranting becomes even more demanding, making us realize just how correct Fender is in feeling how much a new overcoat is owed to him from his former boss.

One of the most heartwarming as well as heart-wrenching tales is told when Morry, “the finest tailor in town,” is approached by Fender to repair his 22-year-old overcoat, now in rags and totally ineffective in protecting Fender from suffering in the cold warehouse. As the two negotiate the cost of a new “bespoke” overcoat made specifically for Fender, we are invited into watching their developing friendship. Thus, when Fender returns to ask for Morry’s help, your heartstrings will hum as their Yiddish-infused banter seeks to allow their souls to rest in peace, in this world and the next. And I guarantee memories of your own loved ones who you hope are resting in peace will flood your thoughts as these two talented actors authentically share the lives of these two friends as they work together to do just that. 

Scenic design by Rich Rose effectively takes the audience from Ranting’s garment factory to Morry’s small coat shop, as well as other locations necessary to transport us to these two poor men’s world. Adding to the emotionally-filled play’s environment are Leigh Allen’s lighting design, Audrey Eisner’s costume design (note how Morry wears his measuring tape like a tallis around his neck), The Bespoke Overcoat by Wolf Mankowitz continues through May 12 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice 90291. Street parking or limited free lot behind building. Tickets start at $35 – $45 ($35 Thursdays, 55+ Discount $10; Student Rush at door $12), online https://pacificresidenttheatre.org/ or call (310) 822-8392. Audience members who donate a clean, gently worn or new coat when attending will receive free coffee and a treat.