Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE PRICE • New Jewish Theatre

"The Price", one of Arthur Miller's last critically successful plays, burrows into the complicated family dynamics between two estranged brothers. Choices made long ago become the source of long-held hidden resentments and hard feelings. Hello, "Family Drama", right? This New Jewish Theatre production was the first time I'd seen it, and while it's nice to scratch an Arthur Miller play off of the list in my head, this presentation is a pretty fine example of why it was on the list in the first place.

Playing out in the attic of a Manhattan apartment, the first several moments are spent as Victor Franz, (Michael James Reed), a police sergeant who's been on the force for 28 years, nostalgically goes through the remnants of his family's past in the house that he and his brother grew up in. An old gramophone, a radio he built, his fencing foil and mask, his mother's harp, and stacks of old but quality furniture have been collecting 16 years worth of dust since his father passed away. The building is slated to be torn down, so the furniture's gotta go. Victor is soon joined by his wife Esther (Kelley Weber), and she's not shy about the fact that she wants to get the most money possible from the sale of the furniture -- hoping that Victor, three years past retirement, will finally be able to stop working.

Kelley Weber (Esther)
and Michael James Reed (Victor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You get the feeling that Victor has been a source of disappointment for Esther. He and his brother Walter (Jerry Vogel) had dreams of becoming scientists, but while Walter went on to become a successful surgeon, Victor chose to join the police force and take care of his parents -- victims of the Depression, until their death, with Walter contributing a mere five dollars a month. Victor and Esther both harbor resentments towards Walter, but Victor still plans to split the proceeds from the sale of the furniture with him, even though Walter has repeatedly ignored his calls and messages.

Gregory Solomon (Bobby Miller), an 89 year old furniture dealer, arrives for an appraisal after making his way up to the attic. He takes his time surveying the goods, quite excited to be back in the game after semi-retiring a couple of years earlier. He shrewdly insists to Victor that he can't be emotional about used furniture, and they eventually settle on a price of $1,100. When Esther returns from a walk, and Walter arrives unexpectedly, they both think the price is too low. After a quick, awkward reacquaintance, Walter comes up with the idea of donating the furniture and making money on a huge tax deduction to give to his brother's family. Esther naturally loves the idea, but Victor's not too crazy about it. With Solomon stepping in trying to seal his deal, heated exchanges are traded back and forth between the brothers, and their choices, and the truth about their father's situation is made clear, and the illusions about what's kept them apart comes to light.

Bobby Miller (Solomon) and Michael James Reed (Victor)
(Jerry Vogel in rear).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This 1968 play holds up incredibly well in the hands of director Bruce Longworth. The comedic moments, weighty silences and eruptions are all perfectly balanced and supported by a rock solid cast and resonant creative contributions. Reed's Victor takes his time in the first minutes, heightening our interest, maintaining it, and wearing his role comfortably along the range of emotions that Victor passes through during the course of the play. Weber paints a portrait of a woman who has been through her trials with her husband, but a warmth between them comes through honestly. Miller is perfectly cast as the counterweight to the evening's happenings, even making the act of eating a boiled egg that he produces from his pocket a joy to watch. Vogel, disarmingly likable, considering what we might expect, gives Walter the layers that hold the audience's attention whenever he speaks, filling in the blanks about what's been happening with him, and he plays well alongside Reed.

Jerry Vogel (Walter), Bobby Miller (Solomon)
and Michael James Reed (Victor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Mark Wilson's incredible scenic design along with Jenny Smith's property design, offering an off kilter crowding of old furniture against wooden slates, lend an appropriate heaviness, with chairs even hung along the ceiling of the space. Michael Sullivan's lighting design sets everything off beautifully, with seamless sound and costume design by Zoe Sullivan and Michele Friedman Siler.

The chance to sink your teeth into this production shouldn't be missed. I mean, it's Arthur Miller! Go see it.


THE PRICE

Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Bruce Longworth
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through April 6 | tickets: $35 - $39
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday the 6th at 2pm

Cast:
Bobby Miller* (Solomon), Michael James Reed* (Victor), Jerry Vogel* (Walter) and Kelley Weber (Esther).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Zoe Sullivan; property design by Jenny Smith; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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