Truth and consequences
The imminent demolition of their home brings two estranged brothers back together to sort through the dust-covered relics of an attic and their memories in Arthur Miller’s The Price.
In a rehearsal for Reno Little Theater’s upcoming production, the brothers see each other for the first time in years. As they confront the changes that have occurred over time, they meander through the set of an attic filled with old furniture, gowns, fencing equipment, an old radio and other discarded remnants of their past.
Written and set in 1968, Miller’s play revolves around the brothers, who meet to review the items of their father’s estate. Their father died 16 years before, and now the home of their childhood is about to be destroyed. The play offers a fascinating study of characters who must sift through their family’s artifacts and through a past filled with regrets, resentments and losses.
The brothers have followed very different paths in life. Victor Franz, played by Jamie Dunbar, became a policeman after sacrificing college to support his father, whose business went under during the Depression. Walter Franz, played by Zachary L.J. Bortot, pursued the life of a successful surgeon while neglecting to help the family.
Completing the cast of four are Cathy Gabrielli in the role of Victor’s wife, Esther, and John Simpson as the elderly Jewish furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, whose colorful, enthusiastic bargaining and advice add a touch of comic relief.
“With used furniture, you cannot get emotional,” Solomon advises the brothers. Inevitably, though, they discuss not only the price of the furniture, but also the cost of the choices they’ve made in their lives.
This exploration of choices and life-long consequences attracted director Doug A. Mishler to the play.
“We have all made decisions which seem so right at the time but which came back to interfere with our joy,” says Mishler.
The play appears deceivingly simple with its single setting and small cast, but the complexities exist within the characters, offering many challenges to the actors. One such hurdle exists in having to play characters who are much older than themselves. An even greater challenge, according to Mishler, is finding nuanced connections to the feelings of loss, betrayal and regret that these characters experience.
Typical of an Arthur Miller play, the dialogue is finely crafted and a pleasure to listen to. Even though the actors are still in the middle of the rehearsal process, they bring a depth of understanding to the language, infusing even seemingly insignificant bits of small talk with rich overtones.
The voices of the earthy policeman, Victor, and the smug surgeon, Walter, are intermingled with Esther’s anxious urgings and Solomon’s humorous quips in a quartet of inescapable self-discovery. This gradual uncovering of the truth makes for interesting theater.
“They have to come to understand who they are, and who they are is not what they thought,” says Mishler.
Last year, Mishler directed another Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman, and he chose to bring The Price to the stage of the Reno Little Theater because he admires its explorations of “what it means to be a human being.” He praises its simplicity of approach and its characters’ “exquisite self-examinations” to which every person can relate.
“I think anyone who visits with the four extraordinary characters of The Price will find something of themselves,” he says.