Every household fabricates familial idioms. These simple phrases may mean little or nothing to those outside of the household, but their significance is instantly recognizable to those within the family. For example, a common phrase I heard throughout my childhood from my father (and still hear to this day) is “Love your Mondays”. Other than the surface meaning of maintaining a positive attitude, even on the culturally agreed-upon worst day of the week, the words were meant to encourage the pursuit of a career and lifestyle that invigorates and excites us every day rather than succumb to a joyless life that wears us down. True, it’s rare for an individual to discover a life that propels them out of bed every morning with a refreshed sense of determination and contentment, but, as with most pursuits, it’s often in the efforts towards the ideal where satisfaction is found. All we can do in the meantime is make each day count towards our individual goals, whatever they may be.
The Price by Arthur Miller depicts Victor Franz, a nearly 50-year-old police sergeant, in the process of selling his family’s old furniture to an elderly antique dealer who states early on that one cannot become emotional over used furniture. But emotions quickly take hold as the day rolls on and tensions rise. What begins as a simple business transaction quickly devolves into emotional turmoil for Victor as he comes into conflict with his wife, estranged brother, and the dealer himself, all of whom force Victor to reevaluate his life and the choices he has made thus far.
This may seem to be a bizarre first detail for me to notice upon entering the theater, but Desiderio Roybal’s highly detailed set had an accurate scent. It was quite striking. Imagine any furniture-ridden attic or antique shop you’ve ever entered, and recall the nostalgic scent of old wood. That’s what filled the theater, and it laid the foundation for the recurring themes of age, time, and nostalgia that persist throughout The Price. Otherwise, every piece of the set felt natural in its placement while the actors interacted with most of them throughout. Most intriguing of all was a small bench that maintained a prominent position far downstage center which was often utilized as a seat for characters, though always while facing upstage with their backs to the audience. The deliberate blocking seems to reflect the characters’ (particularly Victor and Walter) tendency to stonewall one another from their true feelings. Roybal clearly went the extra mile to ensure every square inch of the stage was utilized to some extent, decorating the intimate space with rugs, chairs, clothes, and walls of furniture that ensnare both the actors and the audience. And it remains the only set I’ve seen that offers a scent as part of the immersion.
But what about the cast that occupies this attic? From the beginning nostalgia continues
to dominate the stage as Victor (Scott Galbreath) luxuriates in the little discoveries that clearly rekindle warm memories of times long gone, all of which is conveyed without any spoken dialogue. It was an immediate indicator to Galbreath’s talents as he easily communicated with the audience without muttering anything more than a soft chuckle here or there. Yet despite his professional, clean-cut appearance, complete with his policeman’s uniform, little time is spent before Galbeath makes it apparent how unsatisfied Victor is with his choice of career. Galbreath’s performance stands out as he remains sympathetic and relatable even as he clearly begins acting against his better intentions to satisfy his ego. There’s plenty of anger thrown around onstage, especially between Galbreath and his onstage brother Rick Smith (Walter), but it’s mostly the steely, lower rage that doesn’t need to express itself through immature shouting and screaming (though when the brothers’ get heated they are quite fearsome). Though the play isn’t entirely fueled by anger. Galbreath and Amanda Cooley Davis (Esther) maintain a believable chemistry for two individuals married over twenty years. They bicker, poke fun, and disagree at almost every turn, but one never gets the sense that they don’t truly love each other. True, much like with Smith, tensions mount and tempers fly between them as the play progresses, but, as it tends to be with families, there is true concern and a desire to help behind all of the bitterness.
Lastly there is the antique dealer, Gregory Solomon played by producer David Jarrott. Following last year’s production and performance in Freud’s Last Session, it comes as no surprise that Jarrott once again commands your attention and intrigue whenever he’s onstage. He is at once the most affable and likable presence onstage as he jovially meanders through his conversation with Victor, yet is also convincingly frustrating for those very reasons. His presence instigates much conflict between the family members, yet Jarrott seems to want to get out of the situation as smoothly as possible like everyone else. As the outsider from the rest of the family, Solomon’s motives and honesty are often called into question by the rest of the cast, and it is a sign in favor of the whole casts’ talents that the audience is equally unsure of the antique dealer’s intentions. As Esther and Walter questioned whether or not Solomon was offering a fair price I too wondered if he was truthful in his statements, while likewise wanting to believe in Solomon’s word. Much of this should also be attributed to Arthur Miller’s words which should not surprise anyone who has glanced at a copy of Death of a Salesman. Though it would be remiss of me not to honor the efforts of director Fritz Ketchum who clearly knows how to draw out the subtleties in her actors’ performances. Looking back on it, there isn’t one moment where I could feel Ketchum’s directorial control over the play, but that’s what I love about her work. Nothing feels staged. It all flows naturally. All in all, the cast creates an elite quartet of striking performances that never waver. There’s never a moment in which the emotions of the moment feel forced or abrupt. Even when we can see the faults in the characters’ logic we can at least see the path they’ve taken to come to these conclusions, thereby sympathizing with them.
After the success of Jarrott Productions’ inaugural performance last year it gladdens me to find their second production to maintain the high standards with which they introduced themselves. The Price is the rare kind of production that demands your attention as you beg to learn more about this family yet fear every reveal they have to offer. It’s a witty, well-paced, finely tuned production that knows how to keep the tension high while breaking up the intensity just enough to allow some rightfully-earned laughs when needed, and a worthy continuation of Mr. Jarrott’s producing career.
Jarrott Productions’ The Price continues playing at the Trinity Street Theatre every Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm until October 22nd.