Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis caps its 2012-2013 season with Arthur Miller's "The Price," a play that may be among the lesser-known of his works but nonetheless strikes a nerve with contemporary audiences.
Miller's rarely staged, insightful play examines two estranged brothers meeting after 16 years to sell off the household contents of their dead parents, long stored in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone that is now scheduled for demolition.
Bay Theatre dubs the work "Miller's last play of note" — it came two decades after his 1947 "All My Sons" and 1949 "Death of a Salesman" — yet its subject, family dynamics, is timeless. Most of us can relate to brothers paying "The Price" of professional and personal success.
"While 'The Price' may not be the best known of Miller's works, its themes may be more universal than those in his more famous plays," director Steven Carpenter said. "So much of who we are is defined by the struggles of our early familial experiences."
Carpenter wisely allows Miller's tale, set in 1965 and focusing on brothers Victor and Walter, to move naturally, even haltingly at times. The pacing perfectly matches the subject.
Ken Sheets' set design displays the furnishings of a full family life while allowing actors to move through the clutter. The slower-moving first act is enlivened by the humorous wisdom of Solomon, the aptly named furniture appraiser, and prepares us for the drama-packed second act.
Victor, 50, is a 28-year veteran of the police force who left college to support his ailing father. With his wife, Esther, he's first on the scene, examining contents of the attic, lingering over his old fencing gear and a cherished radio. For him, the attic holds a lifetime of memories that he hopes will bring a fair price.
His brother, Walter, has enjoyed a successful career as a surgeon, having chosen to pursue medical studies and contribute minimally to his father's support. We learn that when Victor asked for a $500 loan to continue his science studies, Walter refused.
But in a successful career as a surgeon and nursing-home owner, Walter has sacrificed his personal life, having suffered a breakdown that hospitalized him for three years. He's divorced from his wife and estranged from his children.
Having acted in three of Bay's productions and directed one, Peter Wray takes on perhaps this play's most difficult role as Victor, checking suppressed emotions and frustrations. He strives to please his wife and resolve his conflicts over making the sacrifice to support his father.
As Victor, Wray banters comfortably with Solomon (played by Conrad Feininger), establishing a credible rapport. Victor's frustration, self-doubt and conflicting emotions toward his older brother — the desire for a better relationship despite an inability to trust him — are all expressed. Wray reveals Victor's innate sense of fairness, compelling him to split evenly all sales proceeds while remaining powerless to resolve his resentment over earlier injustice.
Veteran Bay Theatre actor Nigel Reed conveys Walter's complexities as a man who has accumulated great wealth at the price of an empty personal life. Walter, too, seeks a relationship with his brother, though he grows impatient with Victor's vacillating. Reed successfully portrays a self-assured man, intolerant of Victor yet regretful about their incompatibility.
Feininger, as 89-year-old Solomon, provides much-needed comedy as well as wisdom. Grateful to be called out of semi-retirement, Solomon not only gauges the value of the household's contents but also the worth of familial relations. He also conveys his admiration for ethical, hardworking Victor.
Kathleen Ruttum makes a memorable Bay Theatre debut as Victor's wife, Esther, who wants a more comfortable life, conveying her frustrations and affection for her husband and her grudging admiration for Walter.
"The Price" continues through May 19 at Bay Theatre, 275 West St., Annapolis. For tickets, call 410-268-1333 or purchase online at baytheatre.org.
Chorale ends season
Audiences at St. Anne's Church on April 19 and 20 heard performances by Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra in a concert that closed this season.
Music director J. Ernest Green conducted "Light & Life," a program of three modern masterworks: John Rutter's "Mass of the Children," Karl Jenkins' "Requiem" and Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna." The trio was performed by the 170-voice Annapolis Chorale, along with the Annapolis Youth Chorus and soloists Laurie Hays, soprano, and Nathan Wyatt, baritone.
"Mass of the Children" combined the children's choir with adult chorus to lend a poignant sweetness. "Requiem" joined Western and Asian influences; and the chorale's distinct talent was also displayed in "Lux Aeterna."