Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Price (Ensemble Theatre)

‘THE PRICE’ is right at Ensemble!

Arthur Miller, author of ‘THE PRICE’ now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is one of the greatest of American playwrights. In his scripts, he asks, “Is this the best way to live?” He is a moralist, who holds humanity up to the highest standards. This philosophy is woven into such classics as ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN,’ ‘ALL MY SONS,’ ‘THE CRUCIBLE,’ and ‘THE PRICE.’

‘THE PRICE’ takes place in the 1960’s in a cramped top floor of a Manhattan brownstone that is going to be demolished. The attic holds the used furniture of a once wealthy family. Victor, a middle–aged policeman near retirement, awaits the arrival of an agent to give him a price for the attic’s contents. The room is filled with memories. Memories of the 1929 Wall Street crash when the family’s money disappeared, of spending most of his youth caring for a father who gave his love to Victor’s oldest brother who had basically abandoned the man in his time of need. Into this setting comes Solomon, a 89-year old semi–retired dealer. He offers Victor a price which is accepted just as Vic’s brother returns, supposedly not to interfere, but to attempt to heal a sixteen-year rift.

Questions abound. Queries about power, the purpose of life, ethical responsibility, how decisions are made, and what people do to physically and emotionally survive. Paramount is the question, “What price do we pay for the decisions we make?”.

Ensemble’s production, under the adept direction of the crowned queen of local theatre, Dorothy Silver, is superb. The message is clearly revealed. The pacing is right. The performances on target. This is theatre at its finest, molded by a directing magician.

Charles Kartali as Victor, the brother who, in his thinking, made the “ethical” decision to give up his personal desires in order to be the “good” son, walks a fine line between being a martyr and a hero with the ability of a high-wire professional. He never crosses into the melodramatic, though that would have been very easy to do. His angst, his moral indignation, his certainty over his lack of certainty, is readily apparent. This is a fine, fine performance.

Reuben Silver, the elder statesman of Cleveland theatre, creates a fascinating character as Solomon, the used furniture dealer who must decide what price he must pay to continue to live his life in a productive manner. He imbues the character with mirth, emotional torture and reality. We feel sorry for him, while we admire his ability to go forward. Wow!

Maryann Elder, who portrays Victor’s frustrated wife, a woman torn between her desire for the better life she wants and loyalty to her husband, creates a clear characterization.

Joel Hammer as Walter, Victor’s brother, is believable and real. Do we accept his tale of why he abandoned the family? Do we accept that he is a “changed man” due to an awaking that came as a result of nervous breakdown? Again, the performance walks a fine line between drama and melodrama, with success.

Ron Newell’s set is amazing. There is more junk on stage then one could imagine. Where oh where did he unearth all the furniture and kitsch that totally populates the space?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kudos to director Dorothy Silver and her amazing cast for a highlight production. This is MUST SEE theatre.