“The Price” by Arthur Miller, Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

From left: John Shillington, Madeleine Ashe, Sam Hood

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photos by Eric Chazankin

Good Casting Makes for Powerful, Engrossing “Price”
 

Legendary American playwright Arthur Miller tells stories of everyday life and expectations, with the American Dream as his backdrop. Deceptively simple dialogue is used to build his characters’ pasts, and colloquial language contains profound reflections on life and its meaning.  “The Price”, one of Miller’s lesser-known plays, has an autobiographical basis. It deals with the loss of a family fortune in the crash of 1929 that leads to dysfunction, misunderstandings and estrangement. Miller’s own father lost his business in the Great Depression, and he based the lead character in the play on a childhood friend.

First performed in 1968, “The Price” is a contemporary play rich with the Miller hallmarks of intense emotional interplay and subverted feelings. The title refers not only to the price of a family’s heirlooms, but also to the price of family harmony – a price that seems too high for them to pay. Vik (Sam Hood) is a dedicated cop who for years has denied himself true happiness and fulfillment while caring for his destitute father. Meanwhile, his brother Walter (John Shillington) has become a successful doctor, leaving his family behind in pursuit of his all-consuming career. After their father’s death, Vik’s world begins to crumble as he tries to connect with his long-estranged brother so they can deal with what remains of the family’s estate. Vik’s strong and devoted wife Esther (Madeleine Ashe) tries to give emotional support, even as masquerades begin to fall with the arrival of the feisty estate appraiser, Mr Solomon (Charles Siebert).

Charles Siebert

The wisdom of this Solomon is laced with wit. A noted Broadway, TV and film veteran, Siebert effectively makes Solomon the story’s catalyst and center of gravity, bringing his considerable experience to this, his first outing on the Cinnabar stage. Siebert presents Solomon as a multi-dimensional but reassuring and steady presence: richly endearing, comedic and dramatic.

Shillington as the success-driven Walter lends a deeply moving humanity to what could have been a cold, unsympathetic character. Through excellent use of his voice and gestures, Shillington expresses Walter’s deep longing to reach out to his brother.

Ashe as Esther allows us to see those inner wheels turning in her head. Through her reactions and interplay with the brothers’ characters – where at times Esther almost seems to be serving as referee – she fully expresses the confusion, frustration and love that permeate the performance.

Hood’s interpretation of Viktor reaches near- Shakespearean heights, although towards the end of the play he seems to lose some of the internal reflection behind his reactions. Even so, his ability to build from a simple fellow to finally reveal a very complex individual is extraordinary. In the end, Vik learns that his self-created identity as a victim is based on ignorance of the truth. Yet he clings to this identity, even after he learns it’s a false one.

In “The Price”, director Sheri Lee Miller had only a single set to work with, and a claustrophobic one at that, since the entire play takes place in a cluttered attic caught in a 1929 time warp. She brings all those powerful, hidden emotions sweeping to the surface like a whirlwind, clearing away all the dust and clutter in that family attic. According to Miller, this attic “serves as a metaphor for the relationship of the two brothers, and in fact, for their lives in general.” She gives the play a particularly strong closing, ironic and moving, but leaves it open-ended, suggesting the promise of hope and understanding. The audience had a powerful response to the excellent chemistry and performance of the cast – a standing ovation.

 

When: Now through April 7, 2013

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2 p.m. Sunday April 7

Tickets: $15 to $25

Location: Cinnabar Theater

3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA
Phone: 707-763-8920

Website: www.cinnabartheater.org