Playwright Arthur Miller likes to build furniture in his spare time. It's a fitting hobby; his appreciation of solid craftsmanship is reflected in the structure of his plays. And, in the case of "The Price," solidly built furniture is the subject of the most memorable speech.
Banging his hand on a heavy wood table, Gregory Solomon, an 89-year-old Russian-Jewish furniture dealer, exclaims, ". . .this table. . . Listen! You can't move it. A man sits down to such a table, he knows not only he's married, he's got to stay married -- there is no more possibilities."
It's a humorous scene, and in the current production at the Vagabond, James Potter successfully exploits its Borscht Belt flavor. But he also lets us know there's a serious point to Solomon's levity. His joke about the table is a comment on permanence, relationships and responsibility, and that comment is at the core of "The Price."
Regrettably, the Vagabond's production, directed by Barry Feinstein, isn't always as solid as the heavy wood table. As Victor Franz, a policeman who hopes to sell his father's old furniture to Solomon, Joseph M. Cimino approaches the proper characterization: He's cowed but virtuous, a decent man who's always followed his conscience and now has little to show for it. However, during the production's first weekend, Cimino repeatedly stumbled over his lines, lengthening what was already a slow-paced evening.
Miller likes to write about brothers, and "The Price" features one of his most divergent pairs of siblings. Victor's brother, Walter, is a successful doctor. The two haven't spoken for 16 years. And Victor has harbored a grudge even longer: He's convinced he made his brother's medical career possible by staying home and caring for their frail father.
As Walter, Bill Sanders makes a believable doctor, and when he begins to spew the feel-good philosophy that helped him recover from a nervous breakdown, he's a convincing apostle of the more egotistical self-help movements. But even though Walter is the "success" of family, by the end of the play, he's the one who cannot appreciate -- or begin to understand -- what constitutes solidity in life.
Though Walter doesn't "get it," Victor finally does, and so does his frequently exasperated wife, well-played with a touching mixture of love and frustration by Gloria Henderson.
But the furniture dealer is the character who sticks with you; he has a certain whimsy. At some point you begin to wonder whether he is even of this earth. Perhaps he's some sort of angel -- heaven-sent to settle moral estates as well as property. Despite its flaws, the Vagabond's production makes this distinction clear. You'll never look at an old wood table the same way again.
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Through March 22.
Where: The Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway.
Tickets: $8 and $9.
Call: (410) 563-9135.