Stage directions tell us that on stage we see the living room of a 1950s working class apartment. It's kind of rundown but still clean. All these folks seem to have is a rocking chair, a dining room table, and a phonograph (an old kind of record player). You can also see the outside of the tenement building where the apartment is located and bit of the street. Basically, we're in a total slum. Two other locations are also represented. One is a lawyer's office, represented by a desk. The other is a phone booth. Or should we say the phone booth (insert ominous music).
Louis and Mike, two longshoremen, are pitching coins against a wall. (In case you don't know, a "longshoreman" is a dock worker and "pitching coins" is a kind of gambling. No, we're not going to tell you how to play.)
Alfieri enters. He's in his fifties, a little pudgy, a little balding.
Louis and Mike greet Alfieri with a kind of uneasy "what's up" nod.
Lights fade on the longshoreman as Alfieri enters his office.
He tells us that he's a lawyer and that the people in the neighborhood are a little sketched out by him. This is because he represents the law. They haven't really trusted the law since their days back in Sicily.
The lawyer enlightens us with some fun facts about the neighborhood:
It's called Red Hook and is a section of Brooklyn not far from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Tons of ships from all over the world unload there.
Red Hook used to be really violent. It was chock full of gangsters, like Al Capone and Frankie Yale.
Alfieri used to keep a pistol in his filing cabinet. The neighborhood has chilled out a lot now though, so he feels like he doesn't need it anymore.
Most of the people he represents are poor longshoremen and their families. His life isn't like any lawyer show you've ever seen – no glamour, no high-powered cases. Basically, it's pretty boring and he doesn't mind. That is until…
The stage lights come up on a guy we haven't seen before. He's pitching coins with Louis and Mike.
Alfieri tells us the guy's name is Eddie Carbone. Eddie is a longshoreman, like everybody else in the neighborhood.
The lawyer exits, until the next time we need a narrator.
Eddie says goodnight to Louis and Mike.
He enters his apartment. His niece, Catherine, is leaning out the window waving goodnight to Louis.
Catherine greets Eddie warmly. Stage directions tell us that he's pleased and shy about it.
Eddie's niece is really excited about something, but won't tell him about what until B. comes into the room.
Eddie tells Catherine that her new dress is too short, and that he doesn't like her wearing high heels. It freaks him out that she's starting to turn heads when she walks down the street.
She takes his fashion advice pretty hard and almost cries.
Her uncle says he's just trying to protect her. After all, he promised Catherine's mother on her deathbed. (Can we say guilt trip?)
Catherine tries to laugh it off.
Eddie tells his niece to call in B. He wants to tell her that her cousins have landed.
This is apparently exciting news, because Catherine claps and yells it out to B. in the next room.
Beatrice (a.k.a. B., Eddie's wife) enters the living room. Stage directions tell us that she's shocked by the news. She seems happy and afraid at the same time.
She asks Eddie if they're alright.
He assures her that everything will go according to plan. They'll be given fake papers and will walk off the ship as if they were part of the crew.
Beatrice freaks out because they're a week early and the house isn't ready. She hasn't bought a new table cloth, waxed the floor, or washed the walls.
Her husband tells her not to worry, because the place will seem like a millionaire's house compared what her cousins are used to. They'll be thankful, he says. After all, she's saving their lives. (Hmm, sounds like B.'s cousins may just be illegal immigrants.)
Beatrice says that she's worried Eddie will be mad at her if something goes wrong.
Eddie tells her that he'll be happy, as long they're not sleeping in his bed, they pay him a little rent, and everybody keeps their presence quiet.
He goes further, saying it's an honor to have them in his house. If his father hadn't immigrated to America and he was over there starving, he hopes someone would take him in for a couple of months.
Beatrice calls him an angel and says he'll be blessed for this. (Blessed? Oooh, if only they knew what Arthur Miller has in store for them.)
Catherine reminds her aunt and uncle that she had some big news, too.
Beatrice tells Eddie that their niece has a job.
We learn from Catherine that she is going to school to be a secretary. The principal picked her out of all the other students and recommended her for a job as a stenographer. (A stenographer is a person who can write dictation in shorthand.)
The job is with a plumbing company near the Navy yard and pays a whopping fifty dollars a week. (Hey, that was a lot back then.)
If she accepts the job now, she can still take her exams at the end of the year and get her degree.
Eddie immediately puts on his overprotective father figure hat. He comes up with every possible reason he can think of for Catherine not to accept the job.
Won't she miss out on her education if she gets out of school early?
The company is in a bad neighborhood.
She'll be around plumbers and sailors who aren't any better than longshoremen.
Why can't she wait and get a nice job with a lawyer in Manhattan?
He just wants her to have a better life.
Beatrice gives him an earful about how he has to stop babying his niece. It's time for him to let her grow up.
Eddie considers this as Catherine sets the table for dinner.
He gets all misty eyed and tell his niece that she looks like the Madonna. (He's talking about the Virgin Mary, not the singer.)
Eddie finally gives in and says Catherine can take the job, but she has to be careful and trust nobody but herself.
For a little while, happiness and hugs abound.
The family goes into casual dinner conversation mode. They joke about the massive spiders that Eddie finds on the ships he unloads.
Beatrice brings her cousins up again. Some guy named Tony is supposed to bring them around in fifteen minutes or so.
Eddie lectures the ladies on keeping absolutely quiet about their illegal guests. If they say anything to anybody, Immigration might hear about it.
On top of that, if any little thing they say gets out, people in the neighborhood will think that they're stool pigeons.
To prove his point, Eddie tells a story about a fourteen year old boy who informed on his uncle. When the boy was found out, his father and brothers drug him down the stairs, his head bouncing all the way. They then shoved him out into the street and spat on him. No one ever saw the boy again.
Catherine swears not to say anything. (Jeez, we'd swear too.)
She asks her uncle if the captain of the ship will notice if the cousins aren't on the ship when it pulls out.
He tells her that the captain knows and has been paid off, along with the first mate, and whoever hooked up the fake papers back in the old country.
Beatrice hopes they'll get work.
The "syndicate" will make sure they have work, says Eddie, as long as the cousins still owe them money. After the payoff, they'll have to fend for themselves like everybody else. (Wait a minute. The syndicate? This is starting to sound an awful lot like some forgotten Sopranos episode.)
Eddie asks his Madonna when she's supposed to go to work. She tells him Monday.
This time he gets super misty eyed. He wishes her luck and says that somehow he never thought she'd grow up.
She runs to get him a cigar from his bedroom.
Eddie asks Beatrice why she's been mad at him lately.
B. denies that she's been mad (three times) and then leaves the room suddenly to wash the dishes. (Something tells us she might not be telling the entire truth about this whole being mad thing.)
Catherine returns and lights Eddie's cigar for him. (Ahem, lights his cigar? Read into it all you want.)
After a quiet moment, Catherine asks him to not worry about her.
He avoids what she says, and tells her to go help with the dishes.
At the end of the scene Eddie is left alone in the room, blowing smoke into the air.
Enter Alfieri, our friendly neighborhood lawyer and narrator.
He tells us a little bit about Eddie's character. According to Alfieri, the longshoreman is honest and works hard when there's work to be had.
Alfieri then brings us back to the main story, telling us that, not long after Eddie's family had eaten, the much talked about cousins showed up.
Lights fade on Alfieri, as Marco and Rodolpho come walking down the street with a man named Tony.
Tony points out the apartment and tells them they're on their own now. He expects them to be at work tomorrow. (It seems like Tony might have a similar job description to Tony Soprano.)
Marco thanks him and Tony goes.
Rodolpho is impressed by the luxuriousness of the rundown tenement building compared to the houses in his own country.
Marco tells him to hush, and they knock on the door.
Eddie answers the door. Friendly greetings abound.
Marco makes sure to tell Eddie that they'll leave anytime he wants.
Catherine marvels at Rodolpho's blond hair.
He tells her it's because the Danes invaded Sicily a long time ago. (Danes = Denmark = some of the blondest blondes on Earth.)
Eddie asks the Sicilians if they worked on piers back home.
Rodolpho tells him that there aren't any docks in Sicily. The fishermen just pull their tiny boats up onto the beach.
Eddie wants to know what they do for work.
Rodolpho says that they do anything they can find.
Most of the time there's no work to be had, so they hang around the piazza, a kind of courtyard, waiting on the train. Sometimes passengers get off and want to use the horse drawn carriages that pass for taxis in his village. The only problem is that the horses are too skinny to actually pull the carriage. So, men hang around hoping to make a little extra money by helping to push the taxis uphill.
Catherine asks if they have automobile taxis.
Rodolpho tells her yes, but they have to push them too.
Eddie asks Marco about his family. We learn that Marco is married with three kids. His oldest child is sick. He thinks all of them will die if he can't send money home to them.
Marco says he'll have to stay in America from four to six years, before he's able to go back to this family.
Marco asks Eddie how much they can expect to make.
Rodolpho gets overly excited, saying they'll work day and night.
Marco hushes him with a gesture.
Thirty or forty dollars a week on average, Eddie says. That's counting being out of work sometimes for weeks. (There's an important stage direction here, noting that Eddie is starting to only talk to Marco.)
The Sicilians think this is big money.
Marco asks if they can stay in the apartment for a few months so he can send more back to his family.
As long as you need, says Beatrice.
A grateful Marco almost cries from happiness and offers Eddie his hand.
Catherine asks Rodolpho if he's married.
He says no, because he doesn't have enough money.
Beatrice asks if he wants to stay in America forever.
Her cousin says, yes, he wants to be an American, but when he's rich he wants to return to Italy with a motorcycle. If he has a motorcycle, he'll always have a job, because he can carry messages for rich people at the hotel.
We learn from Rodolpho that he's also a singer. Back in Sicily, there was a man who sang arias, opera songs, for the guests at the village's hotel. One night the man got sick. Rodolpho filled in, making enough money to live for six months.
Marco corrects him, saying that it was only enough for two months.
Eddie laughs. (It's becoming pretty apparent that Eddie respects Marco way more than Rodolpho.)
Catherine asks Rodolpho if he knows any jazz songs.
Rodolpho says yes, and sings a song called "Paper Doll" to prove it. He has a beautiful high tenor voice.
Catherine is all about it, but Eddie interrupts the young man, saying that his singing may attract unwanted attention. (It seems to us that Eddie may be more worried about his niece's attentions than Immigration's.)
Eddie tells Catherine to take off her high heels. (Notice that these are the very same sexy shoes he was complaining about back in the first scene.)
She's annoyed but obeys her uncle.
Rodolpho says how beautiful Catherine is as she spoons sugar into his coffee.
As lights fade on the scene, a troubled Eddie watches them suspiciously. (Something tells us we've just found the main conflict of the play.)
Alfieri appears to let us know that a few weeks have passed. He also tells us that Eddie is troubled about the future.
Lights rise on Eddie standing in the doorway of the house.
Beatrice comes walking down the street and smiles at him.
He doesn't return the smile. He's worried about Catherine and Rodolpho being out at a movie past eight o'clock.
Beatrice doesn't see the big deal.
Eddie asks B. if she's OK with Rodolpho and Catherine getting married.
She says, sure she's OK with it. Rodolpho is handsome and he works hard. What more could a girl ask for?
Eddie complains that Rodolpho sings too much while he works. Everybody knows real men don't sing. He's embarrassed because all the guys down at the docks are calling Rodolpho "Paper Doll" and "Canary." Marco doesn't sing. Why does the younger cousin?
Rodolpho is young, says B. He doesn't know how to act yet.
And what's up with him being blonde?, Eddie wants to know.
Beatrice tells her husband that he's crazy.
Eddie says he just doesn't like Rodolpho's "whole way." (Could he be implying that Rodolpho is gay?)
B. tells her husband not to start anything with Rodolpho.
He says he didn't raise Catherine just to have her stolen away by some flouncing blonde singing Sicilian.
Beatrice tells him he's got his own problems. They haven't had sex in three months.
After some interrogation, he admits that it's because he's been worried about Catherine. (Let's get this straight. He's not sleeping with his wife, because his mind is occupied by his beautiful young niece? Interesting.)
This seems to irritate Beatrice. She reminds Eddie that his niece will soon be eighteen and he needs to let her make her own decisions.
She goes into the house, leaving Eddie outside.
Louis and Mike come walking down the street.
They ask Eddie if he wants to go bowling.
He says he's too tired.
The longshoremen tell Eddie that he deserves a lot of credit for taking in the Sicilians.
He says he doesn't deserve it, because they don't cost him anything.
Mike and Louis start comparing Eddie's two house guests. They're impressed with how strong Marco is.
When they bring up Rodolpho, though, all they can say is how "funny" he is. They comment on how everybody at the docks laughs when the young man is around. ("Funny," huh? Are they really talking about Rodolpho's sense of humor?)
As Louis and Mike walk off laughing, when lo and behold they run into Rodolpho and Catherine returning from their movie. When they see the young man they laugh even louder before exiting.
Eddie asks Catherine where they've been, making sure they went to the movie theater in Brooklyn not Manhattan. He doesn't want her hanging out around Times Square, because it's full of riff raff.
Rodolpho says he's always wanted to see the bright lights of Times Square.
An impatient Eddie tells him to go inside.
The immigrant assures Eddie that he's only been walking around with his niece.
Catherine pipes up, telling Eddie what a lovely time they've been having. She says that Rodolpho has been marveling that there aren't a lot of fountains in Brooklyn like in his country. She is amazed that in his village oranges and lemons grow on trees.
Rodolpho asks if they can all go to Times Square together someday.
Eddie just stares at him like he's stupid.
Suddenly Rodolpho decides it would be a very nice evening for a walk by the river.
Eddie complains to Catherine that he never sees her anymore. She's always with Rodolpho.
Catherine admits to her uncle that she "likes" the Sicilian.
He asks if she's going to marry the young man. She says they're just hanging out.
Eddie tells her that Rodolpho doesn't respect her because he hasn't asked permission to date her.
He goes on to say that Rodolpho is just using her. The immigrant is pretending to love her so that they can get married, making it easy for him to become an American citizen.
Catherine runs into the house crying.
In the house, Beatrice yells at Eddie to leave Catherine alone.
Eddie ends up walking guiltily down the street.
Beatrice decides it's time for some motherly advice. (Or should we say aunt-ly advice?) Any which way, B. tells her niece she should get married if it's what she wants. Eddie isn't even her real father anyway.
Catherine says it doesn't seem right if Eddie isn't cool with it.
Her aunt tells her that she has to stop acting like a little girl around Eddie. Catherine has to stop walking around the apartment in her slip and talking to him in the bathroom while he shaves in his underwear. (Slips? Underwear? Yes. Again, read into it all you want.)
Beatrice advises Catherine to stand up to him on her own. B. says she's told him already, but he probably thinks she's jealous.
Catherine seems amazed at the idea that B. would be jealous of her. (Basically it's never occurred to her that Eddie's feelings and her own might go deeper than a typical uncle/niece relationship.)
Her aunt assures the girl that she isn't jealous but makes it very clear that its time for Catherine to take care of herself.
Catherine says she'll try.
Lights fade on the ladies and rise on Alfieri in his office.
He tells us that it was during this part of the story that Eddie came to visit him. Eddie knew of him because he'd represented Eddie's father a while ago.
Alfieri says that when Eddie first walked in he looked guilty as a criminal, but, after hanging out with the longshoreman a while, he realized that some "passion" had taken over him.
Suddenly we jump into the scene, as if they were in the middle of a conversation.
Alfieri doesn't understand what Eddie wants him to do exactly. It's not against the law for a girl to fall in love with an immigrant.
But what if it's just to get his citizenship?, asks Eddie.
The lawyer tells Eddie that he can't be sure that's all Rodolpho wants.
Eddie says that Rodolpho has been spending lots of money on fancy shoes, records, and various other bling. Would a submarine do that if he didn't know for sure he was staying in the country? Wouldn't he want to save everything because he could get kicked out of America at anytime?
Alfieri doesn't see why this matters. It's still not illegal for a girl to marry an immigrant.
OK, says Eddie, but here's the worst thing of all: Rodolpho "ain't right." (1.527)
The longshoreman then lists Rodolpho's many horrible crimes: he's blonde, he sings in a really high voice, he makes dresses, all the guys make fun of him. (We wonder what Eddie could possibly be implying.)
Alfieri tells Eddie that he understands how he feels, because he's a father too. Still the law can't help him. The only illegal thing going on here is that Rodolpho is in the country at all.
Eddie says he'd never do such a lowdown dirty thing as call Immigration on his house guests.
The lawyer gives Eddie a little lecture about how sometimes we can love a child we've raised a wee bit too much. (The subtext is: You sweat your niece. It's weird. Let her go for everybody's sake.)
Eddie doesn't get what the lawyer is implying. He goes off on a long tirade about how hard he's worked all his life to support Catherine. Now some "son-of-a-bitch punk" is going to steal her away (1.564).
Alfieri says, so much for subtext. He asks the longshoreman flat-out if Catherine is supposed to marry Eddie rather than anybody else.
This makes Eddie furious, but he still says he doesn't understand what Alfieri could be saying.
(Does Eddie really not get it? Really?)
The lawyer gives up, telling Eddie he's helped him all he can and that he should just try to not think about it.
Eddie leaves almost in tears.
Alfieri turns back to the audience. He says that at that moment he could predict everything that was going to happen, but there was nothing he could do about it. It worried him so much he went to an old lady in the neighborhood and asked her advice. She said the only hope was prayer.
Lights fade on Alfieri and rise on the apartment.
The big happy family is finishing dinner.
Catherine is very impressed that Rodolpho and Marco once sailed to Africa on a fishing boat.
Eddie asks why they're all starving in Sicily when there's a whole ocean full of fish out there.
You need nets and boats, says Marco.
Beatrice asks why you can't fish from the beach like they do at Coney Island.
Marco says all the fish are sardines. They're too small for a hook.
Beatrice laughs and comments that you never think about sardines swimming in the ocean.
Just like oranges and lemons growing on trees, adds Catherine.
Eddie says that he heard they paint oranges that color. They actually grow green.
In Italy, Marco informs, oranges are orange all by themselves.
Rodolpho says that lemons are green.
Eddie gets all grumpy when Rodolpho corrects him.
Beatrice quickly changes the subject and asks Marco if his wife is getting the money alright.
Marco says yes, and that his wife has bought medicine for his sick child. He says he wants to go home in four or five years.
Eddie asks Marco if men ever find extra children in their homes when they return. (This is a very untactful way of asking if the wives cheat on their husbands while they're across the ocean.)
Marco gets all uncomfortable and says no.
Rodolpho tells Eddie women are very strict in their town. It's not as free as in America.
(This guy is just asking for trouble.)
Eddie goes off about how women in America are strict too, even though they don't wear black dresses and shawls on their heads.
Rodolpho says he respects American women.
This brings up the whole Catherine issue. Eddie implies that Rodolpho hasn't been respectful of Catherine because he's trying to drag her away without permission.
Marco tries to make peace, telling Rodolpho to make sure he doesn't stay out late with Catherine anymore.
Rodolpho is embarrassed but says OK. He tells Eddie that he can't stay in the house all the time, though.
Eddie says that Rodolpho ought to just be working if that's what he's here for.
Catherine suddenly decides this would be a lovely time to ask Rodolpho to dance.
She puts on a record of "Paper Doll." (The same song Rodolpho sang before.)
He's hesitant to dance with her because he's afraid of what Eddie will do, but Catherine bats those pretty eyes at him. What's a boy to do?
Beatrice tries to defuse the situation. She asks Marco if any women ever go with them on the fishing boats.
He says no. The work is too hard.
She asks if they have a kitchen.
Marco says yes and adds that Rodolpho is the best cook on the seven seas.
Eddie goes off again on his favorite subject: Rodolpho is a girly man. He says since Rodolpho sings, cooks, and makes dresses, maybe he shouldn't be working on the docks. Maybe he'd be better off in a dress shop.
The whole time he's saying all this, stage directions tell us that he twists a newspaper in his hands until it rips in two.
Rodolpho turns off the phonograph.
They stop dancing.
Eddie asks Marco and Rodolpho if they want to go to a boxing match.
He then offers to teach Rodolpho how to box. (How kind of him.)
They spar for a bit. At first it seems playful, but at the end Eddie lands a punch a little too hard.
Rodolpho says he isn't hurt. The punch only surprised him.
He asks Catherine to dance again.
Marco rises, picks up a chair, and places it on the floor in front of Eddie.
He challenges Eddie to get on one knee and lift the chair with only one arm.
Eddie tries and fails.
Marco shows him how it's done, lifting the chair all the way up over his head.
As lights fade on act one, a smiling Marco holds the chair like a weapon over Eddie's head.
Eddie's expression tells us he understands that the gesture is a veiled threat.