Story: Nothing has changed for 16 years in the relationship between brothers Victor and Walter Franz. Since their father’s death in 1952, they’ve left the Manhattan brownstone apartment where he lived untouched, as they have their own estranged communications.
Now, with the building scheduled to be torn down, Victor arrives to look over the physical remnants of his childhood. Nearing 50, the veteran police beat officer observes the attic where his father retreated after Victor’s mother died and the senior Franz had lost his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929. Victor’s father spent the rest of his days living as a recluse in that attic, dependent upon Victor for fiscal and emotional support.
Unlike Victor, younger brother Walter went off to college to pursue his dream of a career in medicine. He’s made a very successful living, although Victor and his wife Esther are surprised to learn that Walter now is divorced.
As an elderly appraiser named Solomon contacted by Victor assesses the value of the musty belongings, Victor greets Walter’s unexpected arrival with a chilly reception. Soon enough, though, resentment and bitterness that has built up over a lifetime and simmered for 16 years threatens to permanently sever any delicate bond between them.
Highlights: Like many of playwright Arthur Miller’s works, The Price delves deeply into familial relationships and the painful friction that builds over a lifetime. Bruce Longworth, a first-time director at New Jewish Theatre, carefully probes the fragility of those precious bonds in a top-notch production currently being performed with a cast up to the task of interpreting Miller’s prickly observations.
Other Info: Each of Longworth’s performers carefully delineates his or her role with the precision of a gifted surgeon such as Walter. Michael James Reed reveals much about Victor without uttering a word in the first minutes of the play, slowly soaking up memories as he picks up a fencing sword, listens to an old record or lovingly caresses his mother’s time-worn harp.
When Bobby Miller as Solomon enters the room, Arthur Miller demonstrates his keen ear for dialogue. Bobby speaks through a thick, Yiddish accent that references Solomon’s heritage, while moving with a deliberate and stooped gait that acknowledges the old man’s 89 years. Watching Bobby Miller peel an egg and savor every bite as vital nourishment allows an audience to witness the touches that make a savvy actor’s performance nuanced and accomplished.
Kelly Weber’s Esther embodies a marriage that has endured trials and frustrations, as she and Victor have eked out an honest but financially strapped living. Weber convincingly demonstrates how Esther longs for any economic gain, as well as the emotional one, from removing the bonds of the past in that gloomy attic.
As Walter, Jerry Vogel beautifully walks a line that at first depicts him as the family villain. As Arthur Miller’s script probes deeper, though, we see that Walter isn’t completely nasty, nor is Victor the victim he at times perceives himself to be. Vogel and Reed handle the escalating verbal confrontation between the aggrieved brothers like two accomplished fencing foes.
As the drama's title implies, there is a price for everything, whether material goods or one’s definition of love and commitment. To hear Solomon wisely put it, “There’s always a story” behind the furniture he analyzes, adding, "It's impossible to know what's important."
Longworth’s careful direction moves his players across an atmospheric set designed by Mark Wilson that crams Jenny Smith’s abundant properties along its parameters and within, including a vintage phonograph and rows of chairs aligned along the perimeters of the attic roof.
Michael Sullivan’s lighting is subtle and soft, such as its illumination of a back room where Solomon rests his weary body, and Zoe Sullivan adds a quaintly evocative sound design. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes dress Esther in a handsome but inexpensive suit that contrasts with the fancy one worn by Walter and the assortment of togs that protects Solomon from the elements.
AlthoughThe Price moves sluggishly at times in its overly long second act. New Jewish Theatre’s rendition is an affecting look at lives lived richly or in frustration, depending upon their characters’ complex emotions.
Play: The Price
Company: New Jewish Theatre
Venue: Wool Theatre, Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Dates: March 26, 27, 29, 30, April 2, 3, 5, 6
Tickets: $35-$39; contact 442-3283 or newjewishtheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb