Stellar performances, inspired set make NJT’s ‘The Price’ a standout

From left, Kelley Weber, Michael James Reed, Bobby Miller and  Jerry Vogel in ‘The Price.’  Below:  Reed, Vogel and Weber. Photos: John Lamb

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Arthur Miller’s powerful 1968 play “The Price” is masterfully staged by the New Jewish Theatre, including first-rate direction by Bruce Longworth and award-worthy performances by its four-member cast. 

The play takes place in the extremely cluttered attic of a Manhattan brownstone that is slated for demolition. The audience is enveloped by the variety of the clutter – a chipped but stately harp, a worn boating oar, oversize breakfront cabinets – that covers every square inch not only of the floor, but hanging from the ceiling of the place. A huge shout-out to scenic designer Mark Wilson and his colleagues for creating the overpowering space, which is almost a character in Miller’s play.

The building belonged to the late father of two long-estranged brothers, Victor Franz (Michael James Reed), a longtime New York cop who is dreading his approaching retirement and regretting missed educational opportunities in his past, and Walter Franz (Jerry Vogel), a financially successful but emotionally conflicted physician. 

The brothers, as directed by Longworth, strike just the right balance between fumbling to reconcile and stumbling on built-up resentments from their childhood and early manhood. Their once-wealthy father had lost everything but the house and its cluttered contents in the Great Depression.

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Walter gets the chance to go to medical school, while the more academically promising Victor stays home to care for their depressed dad. Although the father is deceased, he is very much present in the empty chair that sits in a strategic spot on the stage. Also missing is their late mom, who is remembered for an attack of vomiting when her husband suddenly informs the family that they are financially ruined.

Depression of both the economic and emotional varieties is a theme that runs through “The Price.” Miller’s script is full of vivid descriptions of once-wealthy businessmen and lawyers, whose “shoes are still shined,” sitting in stunned silence on the lawn of a public space, dazed and out of work. 

Meanwhile, Victor’s long-suffering and always complaining wife, Esther (Kelley Weber), is apparently being treated for emotional depression, while brother Walter admits that he was “out of commission” with clinical depression after a messy divorce.

Reed, Vogel and Weber deliver solid performances in their complex and challenging roles, but a show-stopping portrayal given by Bobby Miller as Gregory Solomon, described as an “ancient but still wily furniture dealer.” Solomon, who enters coughing violently as he climbs the stairs to the brownstone’s attic, proves to be the strongest character in the play. Despite being in his mid-80s, he is still sharp as a tack as an experienced furniture dealer, knowing just how to assess the price of each of the items in the vast Franz hoard.

Walter is overly eager to just make a deal with Solomon, who loves to schmooze and for whom selling is an art that must unfold slowly. Miller is spot-on as Solomon, who instinctively can assess not only the likely financial value of the items in the home, but the emotional “clutter” that bogs down Victor, Esther and Walter. They are no match for the mature furniture maven. 

As the Franz family circle and stalk each other across a stage littered with the clutter of their past, Solomon offers them an objective template to make sense of it all. 

Some people, it is said, know the price of everything and the value of nothing. There can be no doubt that in this fourth production of the NJT’s 17th season, “The Price” is right. Really right.