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Bob Goepfert Reviews "The Price" At Curtain Cal Theatre

Great playwrights do not always write great plays.  However, even in minor works by great playwrights there is usually something of value to be found.

This is the case with “The Price” a play by Arthur Miller being produced at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham through May 3. 

“The Price” is set in 1968 and concerns two estranged brothers who meet to settle the estate of their father who has been dead for years. Indeed, the two brothers have not seen each other in 16 years. The set is an attic of a Manhattan brownstone that is about to be torn down.  The cluttered room is filled with the possessions of the father – and bitter memories for the brothers.

One of Miller’s favorite themes was guilt.  Few of his plays address the topic more directly than does “The Price.”  

The older brother Walter is a successful doctor and Victor is a policeman who is ready to retire from a job he hated.  When the Great Depression hit, the father lost his money and his will to live. Walter left the family to go to medical school and even after he became successful he contributed little to the family to help the father and brother through tough times.

Victor took care of his father, gave up his chance to go to college, and even after he married Esther, he and his wife sacrificed for the father’s well-being.  He is bitter about his brother’s success and feels Walter’s abandoning the family contributed to his failure in life. 

The play thoughtfully makes the case that the individual is responsible for his or her own fate.  But as intriguing  and complex is Miller fails to make his point in a satisfying dramatic manner.  The play is vague, too long and redundant.  Were it 90-minutes without intermission it might be more satisfying. 

Bruce Brown’s direction also fails to find the focus of the work and the power between the bothers shifts almost randomly.  The play meanders to meander to the point that it is easy to lose interest in the brother’s quarrels as they both seem filled with self-pity.

While the performances are solid, they do not always overcome the weaknesses in the over-written script.  We know who the characters are but seldom do we care about them as people.  

As Victor, Gary Maggio is able to create a gentle nebbish of a man.  However, his mostly passive portrayal becomes wearisome as he seems to enjoy being a victim.

Katherine Ambrosio contributes to Victor appearing a weakling by bullying the man instead of being the fragile wife who drinks because she is disappointed in her life. Not only does Esther lack desperation, she is so supportive of Walter I kept waiting for the never-to-arrive revelation that she once had an affair with the older brother.

Were it not for Jack Fallon’s refreshing portrayal Gregory Solomon, the ancient appraiser who is negotiating to buy the father’s estate, the highly-expositional first act might be intolerable.   But even Fallon’s comic contributions are not totally satisfying because instead of representing his biblical namesake, Fallon appears more a commercially shrewd negotiator than a wise, almost spiritual presence.

The play finds its dramatic force with the arrival of Walter- which doesn’t happen until the final minute of the first act.    Howie Schaffer brings such confident energy to part that his performance comes disastrously close to making him the hero in the family.

“The Price” contains enough wisdom to provide a lot of food for thought, but it is not a full meal.

“The Price” Through May 3, at Curtain Call Theatre 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham.  Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays – Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. 877-7529,  www.curtaincall.com

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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