CHELSEA -- "A View From the Bridge" may not be Arthur Miller's strongest play, but it has managed to retain its topical edge for a good half-century. In fact, given the rising backlash against illegal immigration, the 1955 work could practically be ripped from current headlines, give or take a little dated slang.
The choice of play, which examines the plight of "submarines" -- 1950s Brooklynese for undocumented dock workers -- seems like a natural for Chelsea's TheatreZone, which works hard to engage a local audience. (Outreach efforts include free bilingual outdoor summer productions.) Sitting in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge, absorbing ongoing waves of immigrants, Chelsea could pass for a modern-day equivalent of Brooklyn's Red Hook half a century ago, when hard-pressed Italian families would routinely welcome impoverished relatives from the old country, offering floor space and food till they could get on their feet.
Eddie Carbone initially welcomes his wife's cousins, Marco and Rodolpho; it's only when Rodolpho starts turning the head of Eddie's 17-year-old niece and adoptive daughter, Catherine, that his helping hand turns harsh. True to tragic type, Eddie (whom Jeff Gill skillfully plays as a bundle of warring impulses) has a flaw that's obvious to everyone but him. Even as he insists, incensed, that Rodolpho -- with his improbably blond hair and his culinary and couture skills -- is "not right," Eddie's own overprotective interest in Catherine also clearly falls into that category. That's what a local lawyer (Ron Brinn) keeps trying to tell him -- redundantly, in a rather ponderous framing device. We don't need this all-knowing authorial presence because Miller has already provided a knowing-enough figure at the core of the conflict: Eddie's marginalized wife, Bea, who couldn't be any blunter.
If previous productions left you with the impression of a subservient, ineffectual helpmate, you'll want to see what Lisa Caron Driscoll does with this role. Try as she might to downplay her passionate urge to protect all of her loved ones, whatever their shortcomings, Bea is also working desperately to restore balance in her overcrowded home. She's the one you end up feeling for, as Eddie stubbornly pursues his foredoomed path.
Anya Warburg easily conveys Catherine's dewy exuberance as she lavishes affection on her uncle and hovers on the threshold of leaving home, embarking simultaneously on a new job and a heady romance. But she comes across as a bit too polished: The double-negatives and "ain't"s that the script calls for never seem to come naturally (Catherine, whatever her aspirations, would still reflect her far-from-refined environment). And Warburg appears out of her depth when the tone turns dark.
As Rodolpho, the is-he-or-isn't-he suitor and possible green-card opportunist, Mauro Canepa masterfully keeps us guessing: Is he mannered or merely overemotive? Manipulative or genuinely enamored? Canepa walks a knife edge of manliness and sensitivity. Amar Srivastava likewise makes the most of his role as Marco, Rodolpho's already-married elder brother, whose young children back home are on the brink of starvation. He keeps Marco's torment in check till the bursting point, then gives it full vent.
All in all, it's an exemplary production of a play that, however imperfect, still has the power to move. Chelsea is lucky to have a company like TheatreZone, and non-neighbors who find their way there will be amply rewarded.