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Caveat Emptor

January 26, 2005, 12:00 am
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The Price is a good, but flawed, product.


Theater serves as a kind of mirror image to life…at least it's been postulated that it might, and some kind of fundamental reflection is doubtless what every playwright hopes to achieve with each story scripted to the page. And whether it's the thick language and multi-layered tales of Shakespeare or the light-hearted ***image1***antics of family chemistry in a Neil Simon production, successful theater reveals something of the connection that forms human relationships. Over the years, Arthur Miller, too, has often captured onstage the power of human connection in times of social change, and in Theaterwork's production of The Price Miller's focus on such matters is visible, but partly cloudy.

The play opens in a turbulent 1968 with Victor Franz (Jack Sherman), a New York beat cop on the verge of retirement, returning to his family's old Manhattan brownstone to settle the estate of his recently deceased parents. Esther (Catherine Donavon), his wife, accompanies him to sort through the mounds of furniture and memories under the watch of an elderly, yet vibrant, furniture appraiser, Mr. Solomon (Dan Friedman). Things tense up when Victor's long estranged brother, Walter (Tim Wilson), joins the mix and discussions of how to divide up the family inheritance begin. As the two brothers struggle to find some common ground after 20 years of ill feelings, the actors likewise struggle to genuinely connect. Sherman and Donavon relate as husband and wife and Wilson capably embodies his own personal struggle, but the brothers never ***image2***convincingly mesh or, for that matter, convincingly fail to mesh.

Donavon is strong in her performance, but risks unbalancing the rest of the cast with her considerable vigor. On a character level, it's left to Friedman to provide the saving grace and the comic relief in his portrayal as the appraiser, which he does with admirable consistency.

Deserving of particular mention is the set. With Persian rugs, precarious piles of books, and a most ingenious and ponderous stacking of chairs, it is the pinnacle of a house full of memories and intricate psychological constructions, left alone to be hopefully forgotten and mothballed.

While David Olson's direction provides thorough guidance, the production is riddled with uneasy segues between emotional scenes. And with emotion at the heart of a family coming to terms with changing personal, social and economic times, the distance and awkwardness on stage almost captures exactly what it should. But there's still something human, something in the necessary moments of illuminating a once-loving family, that remains obscured behind The Price.

 

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