Great Drama Meets Great Cast In “The Price” At New Jewish Theatre

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller and Michael James Reed in the New Jewish Theatre production of "The Price." Photo: John Lamb

Jerry Vogel, Bobby Miller and Michael James Reed in the New Jewish Theatre production of “The Price.” Photo: John Lamb

A lot of folks complain that most local reviewers are too generous in their praise and don’t find negatives in the plays presented by the 30 or more companies around town. Simple explanation- we’ve got a core of great actors, directors and technical people putting it all together and producers who allow them to do so. Looking over my last few reviews, I do have some complaints here and there but they’re usually about the play itself or some minor points about execution. On the whole, however, we’ve got a great theatre community and all the evidence you need is currently playing at New Jewish Theatre with Arthur Miller’s “The Price.” Veteran actors and a prolific director help seal the deal on a play that is a gem to begin with.

Kelley Weber as Esther pleads with Michael James Reed as Victor in "The Price" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Kelley Weber as Esther pleads with Michael James Reed as Victor in “The Price” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Brothers Victor and Walter Franz haven’t spoken to each other in 16 years. Victor, a policeman since dropping his schooling 28 years earlier, has always had bitterness for his brother because Victor had taken care of their father in his Brownstone while Walter pursued his dreams of becoming a doctor. Walter had contributed five dollars a month- not a great sum even in the years prior to the time of the play, 1968. The city is tearing down the brownstone so Victor and his wife Esther must find someone to buy up the massive amount of “junk” that has been taking up residence in his father’s attic for these many years since his death. After a heated conversation about “sharing” the take with his brother and Esther’s constant digs about how much more successful Walter has been, Gregory Solomon enters- swiftly nearing 90 years of age and still shrewd as they come in trying to get the most bang for his buck in taking old and only occasionally valuable furniture from mostly unsuspecting ¬†families.

Although Victor has been trying to reach his brother for several months, he has not returned any of his calls. But suddenly he appears at the door of the Brownstone’s attic and it becomes a tug-of-war between good cop/bad cop and good doctor/bad doctor. Revelations come to light (it has been sixteen years, after all, since they’ve communicated) and pent up feelings come pouring out. Although relationships remain strained, the resulting family feud does manage to heal the rift between Walter and Esther while Solomon still manages to get what he wants. It’s a tragic war of words that does little to change the family dynamic but at least gets some long lingering questions answered. It all comes down to money- who has it and who doesn’t, pride and resentment.

Bobby Miller as Solomon counts out money to Michael James Reed as Victor while Jerry Vogel as Walter watches in the background during "The Price" at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Bobby Miller as Solomon counts out money to Michael James Reed as Victor while Jerry Vogel as Walter watches in the background during “The Price” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Michael James Reed astounds from his first play-within-a-play silent look around the cluttered attic. A sly smile, a long-forgotten memory brought back by an item he finds and a general, almost-defeated demeanor he portrays is enough to establish his feelings- all in the first five minutes before a word of dialogue leaves his lips. His wife is given a solid portrayal by Kelley Weber. Where she could have easily have made her complaints painful with a shrewish tirade, she shows how this woman has endured her husband’s unspoken frustrations and stoic persona for these many years. A wonderful performance.

The irrepressible Bobby Miller bursts on the scene in comic fashion and coyly begins to wrap Victor around his finger. Using his age and “forgetfulness” to ply Walter with stories while he surreptitiously takes notes and quickly picks the wheat from the chaff of the treasures in the attic, he then manages to continue the manipulation on Walter and Esther as they enter the negotiations once Victor has verbally already made a deal. With an impressive swagger of a man who feels superior to his brother (even though he won’t admit it), Jerry Vogel masterfully controls the ebb and flow of the arguments between his brother, Esther and himself. Making gestures that seem generous and denying any wrongdoing on his part from the decisions made years ago, he seems to clear his own conscience even though his brother looks at it differently.

The cast of New Jewish Theatre's "The Price" by Arthur Miller. Photo: John Lamb

The cast of New Jewish Theatre’s “The Price” by Arthur Miller. Photo: John Lamb

Director Bruce Longworth has brilliantly staged this wordy but dynamic Arthur Miller masterpiece. He keeps as much action moving on the stage as possible and brings tension to the rise and fall of the outbursts and occasional calm that wrap around this dysfunctional family drama. Mark Wilson has brought an effective cluttered feel to the attic space with furniture pieces scattered off the left and right wings as well as hanging from the diamond-shaped outline of the ceiling and skylight above the stage. Michael Sullivan’s lights also go far in focusing in on the dynamic nature of the play and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are impeccable.

“The Price” is an almost underrated play by Arthur Miller overshadowed by some of his more popular pieces- particularly “Death Of A Salesman” (which we’ll see later this summer at Insight Theatre) but it’s still a powerful piece that, put in the right hands, is simply spectacular to watch. This is such a production. Catch it at New Jewish Theatre through April 6th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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