By Kay Kipling
When the Banyan Theater Company first announced its 13th season, including its current production of Arthur Miller’s The Price, one could be forgiven for thinking, “Why?” The company had done a production of the play before (admittedly a decade ago), so why not choose something else?
But watching the play on opening night, it was easy to see why The Price might resonate with Banyan audiences and others, more than 40 years after it was written. Whether or not you relate directly to its story of two long-estranged brothers, finally meeting and trying to come to terms 16 years after their father’s death, or just to the larger implications of the narratives we all write for ourselves in our lives, The Price merits more than one viewing.
That’s largely because of Miller’s assured writing, his characters and their situation so finely and feelingly drawn that the play makes you appreciate once more this master of the stage. But in the Banyan’s offering, credit must also go to the tightly focused direction of Don Walker and the performances of his excellent cast, in a set by Chris McVicker that evokes the exact atmosphere of an overstuffed, long-neglected Manhattan brownstone.
This is where Victor (Charlie Kevin), a policeman nearing the verge of retirement, his wife, Esther (Lauren Wood), and furniture dealer Gregory Solomon (Conrad Feininger) have come to assess what’s left of the family fortune, in a room piled high with old chairs, lamps and other remnants of a once prosperous man, Victor’s late father. After financial disaster struck, Victor gave up his dreams of scientific study to stay nearby and take care of the old man, while his brother, Walter (Peter Thomasson), left to pursue a career in medicine and seldom, if ever, looked back.
Now, with the building about to be demolished, Victor and Esther see a chance to make a little money and, in Esther’s case, anyway, move on with their lives. But Victor is still trapped in memories and long-held resentment—a feeling that comes to the fore with the arrival on the scene of the smiling, seemingly confident Walter.
Miller, and the Banyan cast, succeed in breathing into life real, singular people with these characters, even in the case of the nonfamily member, the aged, wisdom-spouting Solomon, whom Feininger makes suitably entertaining in the first act but a more fully realized figure as the play progresses. Kevin’s Victor is a man we can identify with, fortunate in his marriage to Esther (whom Wood portrays remarkably well, despite being somewhat younger than the character) but long stalled in his personal growth. Thomasson’s Walter might seem more remote to us initially, but we soon see here, too, the cost of the life he’s led.
The price, we know, is not just an amount to settle on with a dickering dealer; it’s the price anyone pays for the choices he or she makes in life. And while it can be reckoned, it cannot be reclaimed.
The Price continues through July 13 in the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-2808 or go to banyantheatercompany.com.