- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

In the hurly-burly of the 1960s, Arthur Miller’s well-made 1968 play, “The Price” got lost in an onslaught of love beads, say-it-out-loud activism and experimental theater that not only knocked down the fourth wall but doused the sucker with lighter fluid and set it on fire.

At the time, “The Price” was deemed too tidily constructed — a three-button suit in an age of tie-dye and Nehru jackets. Since then, theaters have rediscovered its timeless relevance and rueful lessons.

While Mr. Miller’s rant against materialism and accreted resentment is as sharp as ever, the new production by Baltimore’s Centerstage sometimes feels like no one has aired out the place since the ‘70s, when the theater last staged a Miller play (“A View From the Bridge”).

Granted, the action does take place in a storage space heaped with old furniture — but do the actors have to behave as if in dire need of Lemon Pledge?

An odd lassitude overhangs the production, which is directed by Will Frears, son of British film director Stephen Frears. Except for some eleventh-hour emotional fireworks in the second half, “The Price” has all the energy of a half-hearted yard sale.

The play centers on the reunion between two estranged brothers, Victor (Jeff Allin) and Walter (Kevin O’Rourke) Franz, who haven’t spoken in 16 years. They gather to sell a pile of junk owned by their father, a wealthy man ruined by the stock market crash of 1929, to an elderly, wheedling appraiser named Gregory Solomon (Howard Witt).

As Solomon goes from piece to piece, coming up with his estimate, he shows both Victor and Walter that everything has a price tag, and often “as is” is the best you can get.

Their life paths diverged — Victor, a promising student, sacrificed everything to take care of his father, becoming a beat cop instead of the scientist he was meant to be. Walter, on the other hand, escaped his father’s misery and manipulation early, becoming a rich and famous surgeon.

Victor is easily the more woebegone of the two, beaten down by a job he hated. Still, he has enjoyed a loving marriage to Esther (Maryann Urbano) and raised great kids. Although glib and breezily confident, Walter is not without his scars, having sacrificed intimacy and emotional stability for ambition.

Both men are stuck, in different ways. No matter how much they squelch, revise, or rail against the past, their relationship with their father poisons their lives and keeps both brothers from seeing each other as they truly are. It is a combustible situation, but you would never know it from Mr. Allin’s performance, which is so low-key and internal it barely registers.

Mr. O’Rourke’s Walter shakes things up in the second half, but he has little to play against, so he resorts to empty bluster. Miss Urbano briefly injects some vitality with her throaty voice and unusual line readings, but even she seems defeated by the end.

Any spark comes from Mr. Witt as the wily, corny Solomon. He overdoes the “goil” (girl) and “poi-sonal” (personal) of a stereotypical New York Jewish accent, and sometimes his performance lapses into shtick, but his aged Solomon quakes with vigor and virtuoso kvetching.

“The Price” is a play that can smolder with bitterness, jealousies real and imagined and Old Testament-style covetousness. All we’re left with here are the ashes and dust.


WHAT: “The Price,” by Arthur Miller

WHERE: Centerstage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 12.

TICKETS: $10 to $60

PHONE: 410/332-0033

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