The experience of seeing Arthur Miller’s The Price at the Curtain Call Theater begins before the lights even dim.
Amid the pre-show chatter and the rustling of playbills, the eye is drawn to the curious pile of ephemerae that fills the stage: A grandfather clock; a paddle; a 78 RPM record player; a harp.
This is where it all happens. This is what it’s all about. An attic filled with the detritus of a wasted life and a lost world. How do you put a price on a memory?
Although it is one of Miller’s lesser-known works, The Price is full of familiar themes: Victor Franz (Guy Maggio) is a blue collar worker—a beat cop—facing middle age and possible retirement. His wife, Esther (Katherine Ambrosio), is a willow tree tired of bending in the wind. Victor and Esther’s past, full of mediocrity and disappointment, is wrought by the choices they’ve made; their future is uncertain. This is familiar territory for Miller. They have come to this attic, in the Manhattan brownstone once owned by Victor’s late parents, to put the past to rest. Specifically, they have to sell the remainder of Victor’s father’s furniture and possessions as the building is about to be demolished.
Enter Gregory Solomon (Jack Fallon), who examines the furniture with a critical eye, but balks repeatedly when Victor asks him to name the price he’s prepared to pay for the whole lot. Into the mix steps Victor’s estranged brother, Walter (Howie Schaffer), a successful doctor eager to make amends. This is housecleaning of a whole different kind.
As Victor, Maggio convincingly portrays a man weighed down by unrealized potential and unfulfilled dreams. He shuffles among the clutter, torn between his desire to rid himself of his burden and to cling to the remains of his father, a man he sacrificed his future to protect. Unable to make a decision, Victor hems and haws like a middle-aged Hamlet. Like Hamlet, Victor is haunted by his father’s ghost. Unlike Hamlet, Victor has nothing to avenge.
Esther, as played by Ambrosio, sometimes teeters on the brink of shrewishness, but her disappointment and anger become increasingly sympathetic as Victor repeatedly refuses to make decisions regarding their future. Ambrosio must tread a fine line between long-suffering wife and raging harpy, but it is a line she walks with verve.
Fallon, as is his wont, steals every scene he’s in. His Gregory Solomon is a broad, fast-talking hustler. With his Yiddish accent and constant patter, Gregory could come off as a grotesque caricature, an ugly reminder of old-time ethnic humor (exemplified by a snippet of Gallagher and Sheen heard earlier in the show). Under Fallon’s light touch, however, Solomon is a warm, welcome presence.
Similarly, Schaffer brings warmth to his portrayal of Walter Franz. Walter comes bearing an olive branch, hoping to make up for the sacrifices his brother made in caring for their father while he pursued an education and a medical career. Schaffer is convincing both in his desire to reconcile and in his outrage when his offer of friendship is rebuffed.
Designer Laura Brignull’s set is a character in itself, a synecdoche for this once-prosperous family.
Tattered and ragged as it is, The Price is a powerful drama and it finds a fittingly powerful staging at the Curtain Call.