Monday, April 6, 2015

The Price—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Cost of Redemption

Arthur Miller’s little done drama is directed by Adriana Baer (Artistic Director for Profile Theatre).  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through April 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Miller’s plays are rarely just about the surface issue or title.  Death of a Salesman is not just about the collapse of a man but of an era; All My Sons is not only about his disintegrating family but all the men who were lost at war because of his mistakes; The Crucible not only encompasses the Witch Trials in Salem, Mass. in days gone by but the McCarthy era of the 50’s; and The Price is not only concerned with their childhood house of furniture being sold but the cost of Salvation, Memories or Redemption, perhaps.

The Franz family, Victor (Michael Elich), a policeman in NYC and his wife, Esther (Linda Alper) and estranged, older brother, Walter, a doctor (Michael Mendelson) are getting ready to sell all the family furniture because the building in which they lived as Youths is due to be torn down.  So Victor gets in touch with a furniture dealer/appraiser, Solomon (Joseph Costa) to sell their chattels and trinkets from a rich but somewhat dark childhood.  Also, Victor and Esther, quite frankly, need the money.

The only stumbling block is the estranged relationship between the two “boys,” who haven’t been in touch with each other for a number of years.  The reasons for this gulf are many and affect all of them deeply, preventing them, in some ways, not to go forward or grow any further.  It is with Walter’s arrival at this crossroads in their lives, which provides the crux of the story.  It is a character-driven play in which old wounds are exposed and the pains and secrets from a bygone era are revealed.  Obviously, to tell more would be giving away plot devices and I won’t do that.

But, one should keep in mind, that memories are tricky things.  Like clay, it can be molded and reshaped into any form the creator wishes.  Other writers like Williams, O’Neill, Faulkner, Hellman and Vonnegut, et. al. dealt in some of their stories with the power of the mind to remember and the imagination to create whatever works to keep our psyches whole.  It also depends on one’s perspective of events.  And, oft-times, we discover we are, indeed, our own worst enemies.  Healing can only take place once we acknowledge we have a hurt.

The set (Jack O’Brien) is wonderful and I marvel at some of the pieces he came up with, especially the harp and the old record player.  A treasure trove of memories for, I’m sure, many in the audience.  And Baer is herself quite a treasure as a director.   She always gets to the heart of the characters under her charge and brings out all the little nuances that make them tick.  She is, indeed, what is called, “an actor’s director.”

Two of the cast, Mendelson and Alper, are regular company members and are frequently in shows here.  They are truly seasoned professionals and add a crescendo of class to any stage they grace.  Alper’s Esther appears to be the secure hand behind the marriage but, as we soon discover, all may not be what they seem on the surface.  She slowly eases into the many layers that make up her character.  And Mendelson’s Walter, is outwardly, in dress and manner, the perfect gentleman.  But, underneath, he’s a man that has secrets and may be losing his grip on reality.  He’s a smoldering stewpot about to erupt its contents.  Both are excellent in their depictions.

Elich as the dutiful son, brother, husband and civil servant may be the product of his own mind.  Never having allowed his true feelings to show, he is now forced into a corner where he must face his demons in order to survive.  He initially presents us with a simple man, who you want to like, but by the end, we are facing a very troubled man.  A wonderfully layered performance.  And Costa is a gem.  Outwardly all bombast and bubbles but inwardly a shrewd businessman, a bit of a sage and a secret hurt also that haunts him.  Costa explodes on the stage with his energy and enthusiasm in a captivating performance.

A side note:  Artists Rep has two theatres (next plays, 4000 Miles and The Liar, in May and June) which are always busy.  They also graciously house Profile Theatre, headed by Baer www.profiletheatre.org  (next play, In the Next Room… in June) who always do amazing works.  And housing the Portland Shakespeare Project www.portlandshakes.org  headed by Mendelson in the summer (next show, Twelfth Night, in July).  Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this!

I do recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you