The Price: New Jewish Theatre takes an Arthur Miller drama to new heights

Mar 27, 2014 at 4:00 am
Bobby Miller as Solomon in The Price.
Bobby Miller as Solomon in The Price. John Lamb

"With used furniture you cannot be emotional," Gregory Solomon, an estate appraiser in Arthur Miller's The Price tells Victor Franz, the no-nonsense cop who has summoned him to valuate his deceased father's estate. "I realize you are a factual person, but some facts are funny."

It's been sixteen years since his father died, and Victor, played with remarkable emotional nuance by Michael James Reed in the New Jewish Theatre's powerful production of Miller's drama, has been living with the humbling fact of his abandoned dreams for more than two decades. Obliged to care for his once-wealthy father after the crash of '29, Victor was forced to sacrifice a career in science as his brother, Walter, abandoned the family, sending them a measly $5 a month while becoming a wealthy surgeon. Now Victor, who became a cop and struggles financially, wants nothing to do with Walter, whom he hasn't spoken with since his father's death. He wants only to settle the estate, get a fair price and write Walter off for good.

But some facts are funny. When Walter arrives he's not nearly the monster of Victor's memory. To the contrary, he seeks reconciliation. And as the brothers circle each other in the dusty detritus of their father's life, Walter reveals that the facts Victor has employed to explain his fateful sacrifice are not nearly so stable as he'd once believed — the price was much too steep.

Though The Price is not one of Miller's most popular plays, it often reveals the playwright at his dramatic best. It is replete with winding dialogue that moves effortlessly between matters weighty and seemingly insignificant. The characters are fully drawn, existing as they do in a moral matrix — integral to the plot — whose dimensions shift as the drama unfolds.

Director Bruce Longworth's remarkable cast is fully up to the challenge. The very talented Jerry Vogel inhabits a superb blend of confidence, remorse and solicitude in the role of Walter. He's matched by Reed, who in Victor toggles between his past aspirations, his present despair and a persistent resentment that outlives its crumbling foundation. Meanwhile, Bobby Miller delivers a scene-stealing performance as Solomon. He saturates the role with terrific character flourishes, bringing an endearing tenderness to its wise humor and slightly questionable motives. Although the playwright was not known for his strong female characters, Kelley Weber brings an extraordinary complexity to Victor's wife, Esther, imbuing her with a powerful blend of striving ambition, disappointment and, ultimately, acceptance.

Still, many of play's best lines fall to Solomon, who dodders about Mark Wilson's terrific set dispensing bits of wisdom. The Price proves him wrong about one thing, though: When it comes to used furniture, you can definitely be emotional.