"The Price," Arthur Miller's gripping saga of two brothers beset with conflicting ideologies and moral values, is at the Vagabond Theatre through March 22.
First performed in New York in 1968, "The Price" is considered by many to be the playwright's best play.
Directed with a rather heavy hand by Barry Feinstein, the local production is absorbing in its content but the performances (with one exception) are ponderous and motivations are muddled.
The setting is Victor and Walter's late father's residence -- an attic room of a Manhattan brownstone which is scheduled for demolition.
The estranged brothers have not seen each other for 16 years. Victor is a 50-year-old policeman afraid of the finality of retirement and the prospect of beginning something new. As a young man attending medical school, he opted to quit and care for his father, who had lost everything in the crash of '29.
The ambitious Walter selfishly abandoned the family and went on to become a successful doctor and the owner of nursing homes.
Once, Victor approached Walter for a loan and was turned down; this and Walter's niggardly treatment of the old man have suffused Victor with a burning resentment.
The father's furniture and other possessions are piled in the attic awaiting the arrival of a second-hand furniture dealer. Victor and his wife, Esther -- an unhappy woman -- hope the dealer will haul the lot away at a reasonable price.
Solomon the dealer is Mr. Miller's most interesting and original figure, a 90-year-old globe-trotter and comical philosopher. "It is impossible to know what is important until the results are in," he says, referring to the price we all pay for life decisions.
Both brothers carry hefty emotional baggage. Walter arrives on the scene and says he has had a nervous breakdown but has changed for the better. Guilt-ridden (he vehemently denies this), he tries to make amends by generously patronizing Victor, but Victor will have no part of his deals.
The real theme of the play and other Miller plays is that we invent ourselves to shut out hurtful self-truths. If we peel away the self-deception we may finally arrive at the rock bottom truths about ourselves and go on from there.
In the four-character play, there must be high tension and strong communication between the actors. These qualities and Mr. Miller's humor are sorely missing in the Vagabond production.
As Victor, Joseph M. Cimino offers a severely underplayed performance. Too coolly detached, Mr. Cimino tediously belabors his lines without even a change of facial expression in scenes that should project angry emotion.
Bill Sanders as Walter is hesitant and often flat. As Esther, Gloria Henderson conveys a neurotic misery. Her character vacillates between the understanding wife and a nagging shrew.
The saving grace is James Potter as the old furniture dealer. His Solomon is a universal, wise sage blessed with a wry wit and endearing nature.
"Senator, Sir," a new play by local playwright Brenda Williams being staged by the Arena Players, focuses on Hiram R. Revels, the first black man to serve as a U.S. senator. Representing the state of Mississippi in 1871, Revels was a strong force in the Reconstruction era.
Intense performances are given by Jerome V. Gray as Revels and John Carrington as his brother Rev. Willis Revels. "Senator, Sir" continues tomorrow through Sunday.