I auditioned today for Alfieri in Arthur Miller’s “A View From The Bridge”.
How did I go? Meh…suffice to say that I need to work on my New York Italian accent! But even though the audition wasn’t my best, I had a really rich and rewarding experience over the last 3 weeks, getting to know Miller’s quirky lawyer.
My first impressions?
Alfieri is a good guy, who provides a voice of reason – he is a guy who stays true to his ethnic identity while straddling the middle ground between American law and tribal customs. He forms the symbolic “bridge” between the old world of the his forebears and the new world of American cosmopolitan “elegance”.
He is honourable, well educated, grateful for American law and values, whilst still grounded in his ancient Italian customs.
It’s a difficult place to be – and I sense that it causes his some unease as the story progresses.
I can’t help but think that the clash between these two cultures, the old and new and their values are constantly butting heads inside him. This turmoil and clash of values is what makes Alfieri interesting (and quirky).
For a start, he is an honest man, proud of his profession and deeply appreciative of its ancient roots. What strikes me is his quiet, enduring dignity and belief in the sanctity of “the law”. He connects with his forebears and traces a line from his practice back to Caesar’s time.
He knows that he has an important place in his community and he honours that in the way he conducts his business.
While his wife and friends tell him that his clients lack “elegance” and “glamour”, but he has devoted his life to the ideal of serving those less fortunate. “After all, who have I dealt with in my life? Longshoreman and their wives, and fathers, and grandfathers, compensation cases, evictions, family squabbles – the petty troubles of the poor”.
But this is where his turmoil kicks in.
He loves the law, but knows deep down in his gut, that the law will not be enough when tribal honour has been violated. That’s hard for him to reconcile – and I’m not really sure that he ever does.
He can see the train wreck unfolding in front of him, just as similar tragedies born of honour and passion have unfolded and “run their bloody course” for thousands of years, and he knows that the law will not make a blind bit of difference.
I think he knows and accepts this.
Through his discussions with Eddie, he tells him repeatedly that the law is the law and that there is nothing illegal or improper about Catherine and Rodolfo’s relationship. That’s his foot in the American side of the divide. The law is might, and the law is right.
But there comes a point where he tacitly acknowledges that in matters of honour, the old way holds firm, right or wrong.
His internal turmoil – right there. Which way – the old or the new? His view from the bridge is a little unsteady at this point.
His second interview with Eddie gives us a hint of this unsteadiness – it’s at this point that I start to think that deep down, maybe he is drawn to the “primitive” ancient tribal customs that he sees paying out.
He talks to the audience about how “almost transfixed [he] had come to feel”.
When he bails out Rodolfo and Marco, he warns them not to take revenge on Eddie, noting that “Only God” can judge right or wrong, while he knows (does he? I think so…) that Marco will do exactly the opposite – he knows that in matters of honour, violence is the inevitable way to end the dispute.
In his final monologue, he reveals his turmoil more clearly, admitting that “I mourn [Eddie] – I admit it – with a certain…alarm”. He knows that what Eddie did was wrong, but deep down, I think part of him admired Eddie’s refusal to settle for the new American practice of “settling for half”. When he says this final piece, is he pining for old times, or an old way of life that he sees slipping away? I love that Miller leaves this unclear and unresolved. I think that Alfieri provides a wonderful view of the old and new ways from up on his bridge and I get the feeling that while he loves his new life, he is not quite ready yet to cut ties with the old ways.