Gablestage Searches For ‘The Price’ Of Sacrifice

At the beginning of Gablestage’s The Price, you can’t quite tell if the protagonist Victor (Gregg Weiner) is laughing or crying. He’s arrived in his father’s attic and put on a novelty “laugh record,” and hides his face as he shakes and vocalizes along. 

But there’s plenty of fodder both for sorrow and for laughter in the cutting play that follows, one of Arthur Miller’s lesser known works, at least compared to giants like The Crucible and Death Of A Salesman. An ornate set by Lyle Baskin that places us in a cluttered attic of artifacts has been onstage for the past 19 months, waiting for the waning of the pandemic that would allow the production to commence. 

Originally, the show was to be directed by local legend Joe Adler. Sadly, Adler passed away in April of 2020, before his vision could be realized. This left new artistic director Bari Newport to pick up the mantle, informed by notes Adler left for the production as well as by her own vision for the work. 

The production excels in evoking a charged atmosphere of ominous tension from the very start, slowly building towards Victor’s confrontations with his brother and his own self-delusion. During the Great Depression, promising potential medical student Victor dropped out of college to help provide for his father, who had gone bankrupt after the 1929 stock market crash, while his brother Walter went on to become a celebrated doctor. 

The two became estranged after their father’s death and Victor never resumed his studies, going on to live a less affluent life as a policeman, a job to which he was ill-suited and which offered him little happiness. Now, though, the brothers must collaborate to sell the furniture left in their father’s estate, opening a plethora of old wounds in the process. 

Actor Peter Haig excels as the affable mostly-comedic figure of furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, who brings some much-needed levity to the proceedings. Weiner has the rather thankless job of portraying a character who is somewhat defined by his indefinition and his passivity, but his energy serves as a contrast that that of the livelier characters can bounce off, and he rises well to the emotional heights of the play’s more dramatic confrontations.

Michael McKenzie offers up razor sharp charisma as Walter, and Patti Gardner rounds out the cast in the less prominent role of Esther, Victor’s wife, who has become consumed by resentment over the life her husband was “robbed” of. 

But despite the play’s excellent cast, direction, and production values, I was far less enamored with the script itself, which seemed uninterested in doing much more than getting bogged down in its own despair. Yes, there were quite a few laugh lines scattered throughout, and a few strikingly profound lines that rang true and echoed afterwards in the mind and heart, a given when dealing with a writer of Miller’s stature. 

Yet the subject of this play is the past, a series of unfortunate decisions that can neither be undone nor that are threatening to cause much future harm; while there are questions posed as to whether the brothers will reconcile and how much the fated furniture will sell for, the stakes of the drama are mostly low because the damage has already, mostly, been done. 

Eventually, revelations come out that make Victor’s “sacrifice” even more tragic, at least supposedly. But these revelations, along with feeling somewhat narratively forced, still have little impact on the play’s present. Furthermore, between Walter’s smug self-protective selfishness, Victor’s complicity in his own sidelining, and Esther’s entitled bitterness, I found I didn’t really like any of them, and watching their circular confrontations go on and on quickly took on a kind of tediousness, especially in the second act. 

I have no aversion to dark and woeful tales and in fact often prefer tragedies to their comedic counterparts, but it seemed like what The Price may have been missing was enough beauty to the characters’ unfortunate predicament to elevate it into the kind of story worth spending so much time with. 

Though Esther fantasizes about “ some crazy kind of forgiveness” that “will come and lift up everyone,” that kind of redemption is far out of reach in The Price. We’re instead left with an overwhelming impression of how easily greed, fear, and finances can destroy families, dreams, and lives, and I’m not sure that that reality is one that most of us really need hammered in. 

If you’re up for a well-decorated and well-performed date with despair, though, The Price will be available for streaming starting on November 17th along with playing in person at Gablestage’s elegant Biltmore Hotel location starting on December 12. 

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