Walter Franz (Nigel Reed) sits in the cluttered attic of his family home. <<photo by Stan Barouh>>
Sometimes you want a simple beach novel to bide away the time, and sometimes you want to be in the presence of a master who can control language, inflection and develop great profound meanings. If you are in the latter mood, Bay Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price is the show to see.
In The Price, Miller revisits the family dynamics he explored in Death of a Salesman. This work has some prescient lines for today, some of the most realistic (and often, painful) family dialogues and confrontation written this side of Eugene O’Neill. Good people clash powerfully, totally misinterpreting each other, as family members are often wont to do.
Two brothers, successful surgeon Walter Franz and struggling beat cop Victor Franz, meet after a 16-year estrangement in the cluttered attic of their family home. The home needs to be cleared prior to demolition and all the family possessions, with their attached sentiments, will be sold. Miller understood that objects carry memories and become conduits through which unresolved emotions resurface.
The first actor of this show is the set. As claustrophobic as any attic containing a family’s lifetime of accumulations, this set by Kenneth Sheats looms over the space. You can almost breathe the dust and smell the mildew. The loading up of random stuff and props by JoAnn Gidos is a critical part of this atmosphere. Despite the set that closes down an already tiny stage, director Steve Carpenter uses space extremely well, making its limitations metaphorical to the limitations of the characters. Carpenter creates a varied and natural tempo, effortlessly moving from strained awkwardness to genial remembrances to strained bad memories to explosive anger, then eddying as the brothers — fearful of each other and of their own feelings — try to understand their past conflicts.
Both Nigel Reed (Walter Franz, the successful doctor) and Peter Wray (Victor Franz, civil servant beat cop) are engaging. From the initial assumptions of who’s the good guy and who’s the villain, you follow a twisted path to realizing both men contain both roles.
Reed and Wray travel that path expertly as they bob and weave with each other, tentative then aggressive, wounded then wounding. Most interesting is how well they convey a sense of brotherhood. Skill imparts that longing as Reed and Wray crystallize the anguish of Walter and Victor.
The brothers are joined in the attic by two others, Victor’s wife Esther (Kathleen Ruttum) and by Gregory Solomon (Conrad Feininger), an almost retired furniture dealer. Ruttum’s Esther is a wife tired of her husband’s financial plight. She conveys both exasperation and love for a husband who can’t seem to move beyond his past into his future.
Gregory Solomon is a brilliant character for Miller to introduce; he injects a comedic note, an outsider’s view and pragmatic balance to roiling emotions. Feininger’s portrayal of Solomon is spot-on, sharp and wily, touching and funny.
In the end, The Price is a moving tribute to how hard families try to remain connected. Sadly, as Miller honors their efforts, he seems to say the price is often just too high.
Playing thru May 12, Th-Sa 8pm; Su 2pm, Bay Theatre Company, 275 West St., Annapolis. rsvp; $35-$55 w/student rush discounts 10 minutes before each performance: 877-503-9463; www.baytheatre.org.
Producer: Janet Luby. Director: Steve Carpenter. Stage manager: Wendy Snow. Set designer: Kenneth Sheats. Lighting designer: Colin Dieck. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Properties: JoAnn Gidos. Set construction: Dan Interlandi.