Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Price"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE PRICE"

by Arthur Miller
directed by Rose Carlson

Victor Franz Ö Bruce-Robert Serafin
Esther Franz Ö Lisa Caron Driscoll
Gregory Solomon Ö Keith Remon
Walter Franz Ö Jeff Gill

Iím growing fond of bread-and-butter theatre tucked away in small performing spaces, often off the beaten track and offering simple, direct productions with shoe-string budgets barring the way to artistic pretensions. One such slice is Stanley B Theatreís current production of Arthur Millerís THE PRICE over at the Devanaugh Theatre; there were only six others in the audience when I attended but no one went away hungry, afterwards.

In Mr. Millerís drama, two middle-aged brothers, estranged for sixteen years, meet again in the cluttered attic of the Manhattan brownstone that was once their home. The building is about to be demolished and one brother, Victor, has come to sell the jointly-owned furniture, much of it of little value, to a 90-year-old dealer. Victor, a long-time policeman, gave up college to care for their aging father who went bankrupt during the Depression; Walter, providing minimal assistance, went on to become a successful doctor. Despite a threadbare existence, Victor has had a good, solid marriage with his wife Esther and raised a son of whom he is proud; for all of Walterís success, his own marriage has fallen apart and he has suffered a nervous breakdown. The brothers soon collide, head-on: Victor accuses Walter of abandoning their father; Walter counters that their father was not as down and out as Victor insists he was and that he (Victor) enjoys his self-inflicted martyrdom. Meanwhile, Esther nags at Victor, two-fold: he must get as good a price as possible for the furniture (he is planning to retire, soon) and he should also make amends with his brother. (As you may gather, there are various kinds of prices, here.) Rather than aiming for another tragedy, Mr. Miller has come up with a near-Romance, angry but reflective; Act One begins with an elaborate dusting scene but segues into a wonderful cat-and-mouse encounter between Victor and Gregory Solomon, the Old World furniture dealer; their wary give-and-take evokes a working-class Lear and his aged Fool and is as warm and funny as it is serious --- quite refreshing, considering this is Arthur Miller. After stretching these new muscles, Mr. Miller returns to his own turf for Act Two, i.e., red-blooded drama with not all of the machinery hidden from view (Gregory, so amusing in Act One, now becomes quite the butinsky). Considering Iím not a Miller fan --- my own family fought with ice rather than with fire --- I found THE PRICE to be enjoyable fare.

Rose Carlton moves her quartet in and around Keith Remonís artfully grouped collection of furniture (the old Laughing Record should be a 78 rpm disk, not an LP) and with one exception her direction rings true --- that exception being Esther prowling about as restlessly as the brothers who have good reason to be edgy (these big cats canít share one cage); if Ms. Carltonís goal is to punch Esther up into a leading role by keeping her ever circling, she only succeeds in making her an obstacle: Esther should carp from the sidelines --- she is the Little Woman (akin to Linda Loman) who has had to make do with a lifetime of watching, not doing; her few actions are her attempts to walk out; rubber-band reflexes to make a change, any change, yet she always snaps back to the sidelines. Gregory, on the other hand, must sit for long stretches because of his advanced age; since Ms. Carlson wisely keeps him as still as possible he dominates through what he says rather than how he moves. Since the Devanaugh seating consists of two long rows inches away from the action (think ďrectangleĒ) I suggest that Ms. Carlton bring her ensemble closer to center stage rather than having them go at each other from opposite corners of the room: as is, there is much head swiveling on the audienceís part; the effect is not unlike sitting too close to a Cinemascope film --- the eye cannot drink it all in and must look either here or there; it cannot do both.

Bruce-Robert Serafin, one of Stanley Bís producers and co-founders, plays Victor. When I saw Mr. Serafin in one of his first stage appearances, he seemed more stagehand than actor; since then, he has relaxed and expanded: he still offers the same bluff heartiness, here, but his former rawness is on its way to becoming well-done --- heís a believable cop, at the very least --- is there a Big Daddy in his future? I first saw Jeff Gill only last month in the minor role of Antonio for CSCís MEASURE FOR MEASURE; as Walter, Mr. Gill is a live-wire revelation, a fine character-leading man in the old Playhouse 90 tradition --- he, too, paints in primary colors but he draws from a more varied palette than does Mr. Serafin; if acting is the art of reacting, Mr. Serafin is clearly deepening his craft playing off of Mr. Gillís collaboration. Lisa Caron Driscoll is saddled with the thankless role of Esther --- were she a cartoon character, she would have a small rain cloud over her head, wherever she goes --- but Ms. Driscoll has an appealing off-beat manner despite her soap-opera restlessness and I kept sneaking glances at her rumpled reactions whenever the brothers locked horns. Keith Remon is far from being an old man, himself, but he plays Gregoryís age rather well by having the body quietly lag behind the will; Gregory is an obvious scene-stealer, a salt-of-the-earth vaudevillian, and Mr. Remonís droll underplaying keeps the old man from dissolving into twinkling coyness and from throwing the ensemble off-balance.

Back in the dawn of off-off-Broadway, the late Joseph Cino would tell his actors to play for the dust when no paying customers came to that eveningís performance; granted, seven bodies making up an audience is more than dust, thank you, but I hope THE PRICE will play to fuller houses before it exits along with the close of summer.

HELP SAVE BOSTONíS GAIETY THEATRE!

"The Price" (5 - 29 August)
STANLEY B THEATRE
Devanaugh Theatre in the Piano Factory, 791 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 931-2787

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