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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


The Price

The Price
Sherman Howard, Joseph Adams and Chandler Vinton
The Pittsburgh Public Theater is presenting a fine production of Arthur Miller's The Price. The Price was first produced in 1968, the year in which the family drama is set. As the play opens, Victor Franz (Joseph Adams) enters the neglected attic apartment of a New York brownstone, finally ready to dispose of the large amount of furniture and other family possessions left in the former home of his father who has been dead for sixteen years. The situation makes Victor reflective. We learn that he was unable to finish college because of financial restrains while his brother Walter not only finished college, but went on to medical school. Victor became a street cop and cared for their father for years while Walter built a successful career as a physician. As the brothers settle "the estate," they also come to terms with the conflicts and resentments that have left them strangers for years.

Victor and his wife Esther (Chandler Vinton) are at a crossroads in their lives. As Victor is about to turn 50, he will be eligible for retirement from the force, there will be some proceeds from the sale of the contents of the apartment, and their future may hold some new opportunities. Esther is excited and forward-looking while Victor is still holding on to the past. He has summoned antiques appraiser Gregory Solomon (Noble Shropshire) to the apartment, to offer him a price for taking away all of the items (being 1968, it's all looked upon as being mostly old junk, though some things, like Victor's mothers harp, hold value). Solomon is a wizened near-90-year-old Russian Jew who was retired, but couldn't resist taking Victor's call and coming to the apartment. Nearly the entire first act is spent with Victor and Solomon negotiating and, just as they come to an agreement and Solomon is carefully counting out the $100 bills into Victor's hand, in walks Walter (Sherman Howard). Just as the lights go out at the end of the act, we see that the real haggling is about to begin.

The four actors are well cast and create specific characters of Miller's design: Adams' Victor is weak, unwilling to let go of what he sees as an unfair past, while Howard's Walter is strong, self-serving, and larger than his brother in ego as well as presence. It's difficult to tell if Walter is supposed to be a bully, or if he is masking his guilt or trying to shock Victor into reality. Pittsburgh audiences have seen Vinton show her gift for immersing herself in character before (Mercy of a Storm, Fair Game), and she does a terrific job with what could be a throwaway role. A good way into the play, it seems it may be all about Victor and Solomon, though afterward it's almost as if Solomon was comic relief (although most of the comic comes before the relief is called for, and Solomon does impart wisdom). Either way, Shropshire (a hoot in last year's Seafarer at the City) is superb in the part, and would easily be able to entertain as a leading character.

With a huge amount of furniture balance precariously (it appears) at the back of the stage from floor to ceiling in an almost sculptural array, it's easy to see what set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella was going for, but it would have been more effective to have the living area of the apartment be more cluttered. Everything seems more "out of the way" than it should be. Costumes by Michael Krass are fine, though seamed stockings may have been gone by 1968. Director Tracy Brigden has built and guided an efficient production of this Miller classic.

The Price at the O'Reilly Theater through April 4. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.


Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater


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-- Ann Miner

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