Salem’s ‘The Price’ gives audience much to ponder long after play ends

By Tracey D’Astolfo

SALEM — Arthur Miller’s “The Price” is a deep and psychological drama that leaves the theatergoer to quietly ponder its many themes once it’s over.

Salem Community Theatre is tackling the infrequently presented play and deserves credit for selecting such a think piece. The play, with a cast of four, is directed by Dick Fawcett and opened Friday.

Like Miller’s masterpiece “Death of a Salesman,” the dialogue-heavy play involves the cause-and-effect interplay among a father and his two sons. And as in “Death,” the sins of the father are revisited upon those sons.

It raises the notion that there is a price one must pay as a result of life decisions.

Heavy with symbolism and metaphor, “The Price” also seems to imply that those same decisions might not be so much a choice as an inexorable action that a certain personality type can hardly avoid.

The two-act play is set in the late 1950s entirely in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone that is slated for demolition.

Two brothers — Victor Franz, played by Dan Haueter (who again gets to don the policeman’s uniform that he wears in real life as New Waterford chief of police), and Walter Franz, played by Bill Finley — figuratively punch and duck in the most meaningful and long- delayed conversation of their lives.

Victor and his wife, Esther (played by Kathy Fawcett), are going over their late father’s possessions with appraiser Gregory Solomon (played by Terry Shears).

Victor became a cop many years ago, forgoing his dreams of becoming a scientist in order to support his father, who seemingly lost all his money and his zeal for living in the stock market crash of the 1930s.

Esther, his long-suffering but faithful wife, wants to get the best deal possible for the furniture and belongings because she is tired of scrimping through life.

When Walter shows up, the two brothers have it out, and in part, clear the air over past actions. Walter left the family after the troubles began and became a successful doctor.

But his personal life has suffered with divorce, family problems and a nervous breakdown.

“The Price” is roughly 21‚Ñ2 hours, with an intermission, and it is a tense ride the entire time. There is no let-up in the intense dialogue, and that means audience members must stay focused.

It is not lightweight stuff. But it is excellent theater, a taut drama that does not soon fade from memory.

The claustrophobic set — a room crowded with furniture — is an analogy for Victor and Esther’s lives: forced to stay behind and assume responsibility at the expense of personal gain. They are stuck.

The director keeps a steady pace through the riveting script.

Haueter, as Victor, captures the self-righteousness of the dutiful son. Kathy Fawcett is very good in her role, demonstrating frustration and yet devotion, a loyal if not kindred spirit to her husband.

Finley, as Walter, lets the guilt that he might feel slowly rise to the surface, and he shows his penitence as he realizes his brother’s animosity toward him. As he grasps the misunderstanding that has stood between him and his brother, he wants to make things right.

But both men are who they are, and nothing is settled.

Shears is wonderful as the appraiser with the spot-on Yiddish accent. He’s a wheeler-dealer. He is an enigmatic man who maybe cannot be trusted though he dispenses fatherly advice — a stand-in for the father who started this unhealing rift.

X“The Price” will be presented at 2 p.m. today and May 10, and at 8 p.m. May 8 and 9, at Salem Community Theatre, 490 E. State St., Salem. Call (330) 332-9688

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