Despite the heavy risk of being bulldozed by monstrously large eighteen-wheelers in the middle of the bustling food terminal that the Long Wharf Theater calls home, life-threatening stumbles into the parking lot prove to be a small price to pay for the treasure of a performance waiting inside. Appropriately, “prices” like these are meticulously, hilariously, and poignantly examined by this production.
Directed by Gordon Edelstein, “The Price” is a revival of Arthur Miller’s widely successful play. Centered around four middle-aged to elderly characters, each struggling in unique ways to make sense of a complex tangle of perspectives and memories, the Long Wharf’s production of “Price” is captivating. It boasts a well-selected cast and a set so detailed and vivid that it almost becomes a character of its own, easily doing Miller’s original play the justice it deserves.
The first scene opens with Victor Franz, a New York beat cop played by Marco Barricelli, wandering onto the incredibly cluttered stage and slowly examining its countless contents with a pungent air of nostalgia (nearly detectable over the taunting smell of the overpriced chocolate chip cookies being sold outside the door). The lilting notes of a saxophone drifting over the piles of inherited antique furniture enhance the sense of returning to a place once familiar. He is soon joined by his wife Esther, a borderline alcoholic played by Kate Forbes, who is desperate for something more than what her blue-collar husband has been able to provide. A flat-out irritating performance and perhaps the only negative aspect of the play, the shrill-voiced nagging that characterizes much of her dialogue becomes tiresome nearly instantly, and the booming “SILENCE!” that Victor finally erupts with near the end of the play is thus deeply appreciated.
However, the play feels as if it has truly begun only after the entrance of the 89-year-old antique furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, with David Margulies’ dynamic performance easily stealing the show and seizing both the audience’s attention and affection. He alternates between attempts at goading Victor into selling the inherited furniture for a low price and hilarious, but oddly resounding, abrupt philosophical insights. Throw in a distinctly Yiddish accent and Solomon’s womanizing, pirating, yet profound character is established as the most enjoyable part of the play. Last to enter is Walter, played by Jeff McCarthy, in the part of Victor’s estranged brother, a successful surgeon with a vastly different perspective on the events, choices and actions that shaped the lives of the two brothers, and which now are the heart of the bitterness between them.
The play takes place entirely within the attic of Victor and Walter’s old home, in which antique furniture rests in every possible angle: Desks, chairs, lamps, and innumerable other odds and ends are scattered across the stage and up the walls and even hang precariously from the ceiling. Aptly reflecting the characters’ hesitations and indecisions about which direction to take, the furniture often hinders the characters’ movements, and even literally reflects their ambivalence with old mirrors along the back wall. With the palpable tension between Victor and Walter because of events that took place among these objects, the furniture makes the audience increasingly aware of the memories residing within each object.
“The Price” recalls the redemption for past mistakes that anyone — whether they be a mistrustful and disillusioned New York City beat cop or a wealthy doctor whose personal life is in a shambles — can attain. Never mind that none of these characters ever actually attains it in the end. And remember that Long Wharf’s production doesn’t need redemption — with regard to Arthur Miller’s play, it has done little wrong.