If you've ever tried to move a disgustingly heavy piece of furniture out of an old house, you probably cursed the very existence of such a monstrosity. But guess what? It can serve a purpose as a metaphor.
The set design of The Price, the multilayered play by Arthur Miller, is made up of just such items, serving as an apt symbol for the obstacles that clutter and weigh down our relationships with others -- particularly family members. Thanks to a sterling cast and a gorgeously encumbered stage assembled by Ron Newell, Ensemble Theatre is offering a wise and incisive telling of this script that pits two brothers against each other and their shared past.
Miller definitely has a thing about brothers (Biff and Happy, from Death of a Salesman), but in this instance the fiftyish Victor and Walter haven't spoken to each other for 16 years, since the demise of their father. The old man tipped over long ago, after losing a fortune in the Depression and living with cop-son Vic in an attic apartment crowded with stuff.
Vic tries to unload the whole mess by inviting a used-furniture broker to buy it all. The dealer turns out to be 89-year-old Gregory Solomon, as wise as his namesake and equipped with enough one-liners to keep Victor (and the audience) thoroughly amused. This coot could easily be over-the-top, but as played by the absolutely perfect Reuben Silver, Solomon oozes warmth and believability.
Complications arise as Victor's wife Esther shows up to lobby for the best price possible, so she can use the money to assuage her frustration with the financially modest life of a policeman's wife. And finally, wealthy brother Walter arrives to add fuel to the simmering blood feud.
Few playwrights write family dramas better than Miller, and Ensemble's wonderful players -- under the precisely imagined direction of Dorothy Silver (wife of Reuben) -- coax out every nuance of the words. Charles Kartali's Victor, the most demanding role in terms of character arc and time onstage, is remarkably unaffected and natural as a flatfoot who's abandoned his dreams of a better career. Vic has been beaten up by life, but he's no schlub, and he fights to defend his decisions.
He is matched by Joel Hammer, who crafts an oddly confident yet seriously needy Walter -- an accomplished doctor nursing unnamed wounds. And Maryann Elder easily keeps pace with this talented crew, fashioning a captivating Esther, who loves her husband, but feels trapped. Elder's every expression and posture contribute to a detailed road map of desperation and longing.
Even though Miller tends to overelucidate the struggle between the brothers in act two (relegating Solomon to a couple cameo appearances as a comic foil), the tension never eases, as the men, with Esther's help, march to a sadly inevitable conclusion.
There are no convenient conclusions to reach regarding who is in the right or who has paid the highest "price." Suffice to say that the price Ensemble is charging is a pittance for an event of this depth and emotional veracity.