By Karen Isaacs
One of the hardest things for most people to do, is to realize that the choices we made in life were not forced but voluntary. That often they satisfied some deep-seated need.
In Arthur Miller’s The Price which is getting an outstanding production at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, Victor Franz, a NYC police officer is forced to confront those truths. He must let go of the resentment and belief that the choices he made in life were forced upon him by others. He willingly made them.
It is 1968, Victor Franz is waiting for an antique dealer to arrive. He is finally selling the furniture and artifacts that were his father’s, though the father died 16 years before. But for some reason, it has been undisturbed until now the building has been sold and will be torn down. All he wants is a “price” for the collection of tables, chairs, bureaus, lamps and more that remain. It is clear that at one time, his father was prosperous.
Soon his wife, Esther, stops by and from the conversation we learn a lot: He and his brother have not spoken since the father’s death, the brother (Walter) is a successful physician. Esther, more than Victor, harbors resentment towards the brother, but also envies his affluence. She argues that Victor should not share the proceeds from the sale with Walter. Victor has been trying to contact Walter to let him know about the appointment with the dealer, but he is unsure if Walter got the message or will bother coming.
Soon, Gregory Solomon arrives. He is the dealer though he is in 80s and retired. He is also a talker. He talks in circles, frustrating Victor who wants him to “give me the price.” Through this talk we learn that the father had gone bankrupt during the depression and after his wife died had seemed unable to care for himself; Victor had moved him to take care him, but there was little money. He says they ate garbage.
Act one ends with the arrival of Walter. Act two explores the dynamics between these two estranged brothers. Victor dropped out of college to take care of his father and joined the police force for the security. He had given up the opportunity to pursue his interest in science. Walter, the younger, had stayed in school, contributed little to the father’s upkeep and become successful. But he had suffered a crisis a few years earlier and has developed a different perspective.
The climax of the plot is that at one time Victor had asked Walter for a loan of $500 to continue in school. Walter had told him to ask his father. Walter knew, though Victor would not acknowledge, that the father had managed to keep some money – several thousand dollars. Yet he did not offer it to Victor.
This 1968 play revisits themes that Miller developed in Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. Except in this play the father is dead, although there is a father figure. The play revolves around father-son and brother relationships. How parents often favor one child over another and what that can do to both of them. How brothers can become estranged.
But the play really deals with the choice we make and how often we convince ourselves that there was no choice.
Victor slowly begins to realize that he sacrificed for his father, not because it was the right thing to do or that there was no other option, but because it satisfied some need of his.
This production is blessed with four outstanding performances. Each of the performers mines fully the emotions, the baggage and the back stories of their characters. While you may initially view one of the brothers as the hero and the other the villain, by the end you see them as both complex human beings and feel compassion for both of them.
That is due to the find performances of Mark Ruffalo as Victor and Tony Shalhoub as Walter. They get far below the surface of their characters and show us every aspect through their gestures, voices, bodies and eyes. Too often, Walter is portrayed as both selfish and self-involved. Here you see him as a man shaken by the events of the last few years. You also see that he had more realistic view of his father than Victor had. Ruffalo burrows beneath the self-righteousness of Victor as he slowly begins to acknowledge truths that he had suspected but had pushed down.
Jessica Hecht balances Esther’s resentment of Walter and of Victor, with her realism. She keeps repeating a line that “she did not believe what she knew.”
As the antique dealer, Danny DeVito has the comic role and it makes good use of it. While, occasionally he goes overboard – spitting pieces of hard cooked egg repeatedly, it does help to break the tension.
Director Terry Kinney has managed his talented cast with expertise and has assembled a fine production crew. Each element – set design by Derek McLane, costumes by Sarah J. Holden, lighting by David Weiner and sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen—make major contributions to our enjoyment and understanding of this play.
The Price may be considered by some to be “lesser” Miller, but it reminds us that even “lesser” Miller is so much better than so many other works.
It is at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, 227 W. 42nd Street through May 14. For tickets visitRoundabout Theatre.
By Karen Isaacs
Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is an epic tragedy – almost from the beginning you realize things will not go well and that only one person can prevent it but he cannot see or acknowledge the errors of his thinking. It has definite Greek tragedy overtones though it deals with ordinary people not kings or gods.
I have fond memories of several productions of this play that I’ve seen over the years. Long Wharf’s 1982 production starring Tony LoBianco as Eddie and Rose Gregorio as Beatrice, directed by Arvin Brown, transferred to Broadway and garnered two Tony nominations – for LoBianco and as best revival. I also saw the Greg Mosher directed revival in 20xx with Liev Schreiber as Eddie, Jessica Hecht as Beatrice and Scarlett Johansson as Catherine.
The play tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks in the early 1950s. He lives with his wife, Beatrice, and his 18 year-old niece, Catherine, the daughter of Beatrice’s sister whom they have raised. Catherine is turning into an attractive young woman and is beginning to want independence – a job, to go out, to have boyfriends. Eddie seems very protective of her. The play, which like all good tragedies takes place over a limited time span of a few weeks, centers around the arrival of two “submarines” – two Italian cousins of Beatrice – who are entering the country illegally and staying with them. Times are tough in Sicily, and the older brother Marco has three children, one of whom is ill. He hopes to stay in the country three to five years, sending money home to support his family. His younger brother, Rodolpho, is more carefree and different. He is a blond, mentioning that the Vikings had visited Sicily centuries ago, and we learn that he like to sing, and can both sew and cook.
The story is narrated by Alfieri, a lawyer who comments on the inevitability of what will happen.
Catherine and Rodolpho are attracted to each other; each are young and carefree. She shows him around the city, they go to movies, and have fun together. Eddie is not pleased. He wants Catherine to find a “better type” of man. He does not like that she has accepted a job working for a large plumbing contractor – he wants her working in Manhattan.
His dislike for their attraction to each other, causes him to believe that Marco is “not right” – a subtle way of saying that he is gay. He also believes that Marco is only interested in Catherine to get citizenship.
Things are not good between Eddie and his wife; it is clear that they have not been intimate for many months and that she feels Catherine acts too freely around Eddie – appearing in just slip, etc.
It is not a secret from the audience what is going on. Eddie has an unacknowledged attraction to Catherine.
Given that, it is no surprise that the entire family is engulfed in tragedy and that Eddie destroys both himself and others.
The Young Vic production directed by Ivo Van Hove won raves in London and got much critical acclaim here.
Unfortunately, I am not one of the admirers of this production. It seems too much like a typical case of a director (here the very “hot” Van Hove) putting his concept over the actual play and in doing so diminishes the work.
This is a concept production. The stage set is minimal – a low clear box surrounds an abbreviated playing area. Audience members are seated in a number of rows on each side of the stage – somewhat disconcerting for those of us in the main auditorium. As the play opens, the set is covered like a box that slowly rises, so first of all we see feet.
For reasons unclear to me, the actors are all barefoot.
But Van Hove, who is Dutch, has made some other questionable decisions as well. Some characters have been eliminated and the total lack of set sometimes confuses us as to where we are – in the apartment, on the docks, on the street. The ending rugby scrum, may have a symbolic purpose – but it also makes it unclear what really happens.
Also found the box – which could be a reminder of a boxing ring – distanced me from the actors and the drama.
The British cast is excellent. Most of them maintain a good facsimile of an American accent though not necessarily Brooklyn which we might have trouble understanding. It is strange that the two immigrants have no trace of an accent.
Mark Strong does an excellent job as Eddie – he believes what he believes and he refuses to see what is obvious to everyone else. Nicola Walker as Beatrice somehow seemed unwilling to accept the obvious conclusions.
But the most misguided characterization –which must be blamed on the director – is that of Phoebe Fox as Catherine. First of all, her costume is totally inappropriate for the period of the play; her skirt is so short that when at one point she is on the ground, her underwear is clearly visible. Secondly, Catherine is played like Lolita; it is hard to imagine that an 18-year-old girl brought up in a conservative Italian-Catholic community, would jump and wrap her legs around her father figure.
So while, others may be standing and cheering this production, I found it amazingly unmoving. The catharsis that you expect from a great tragedy is lacking.
The problem to me is that Van Hove decided to make this a Greek tragedy without recognizing that Arthur Miller had already done that for him. All he had to do was be faithful to Miller’s script.
A View from the Bridge is at the Lyceum Theater, 149 W. 45th Street through February 21. Tickets are available through telecharge.
For the centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth, Westport Country Playhouse is ending its 2015 season with a fine production of Broken Glass through Oct. 24 directed by Mark Lamos.
Miller not only lived for many years in Connecticut but Broken Glass had its world premiere at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater directed by John Tillinger (a frequent Westport director) in 1994 before opening on Broadway for a short run. By the way, the original production featured David Dukes (Dr. Harry Hyman), Amy Irving (Sylvia Gellburg), Ron Rifkin (Phillip Gellberg), Frances Conway (Margaret Hyman) in the four major roles. Ron Silver who started as Hyman in New Haven quit the production which had some problems.
Many have said this play most directly relates not only to Miller’s own life but to the experience of Jews in 20th century America. In reality it can relate to the experience of any immigrant group who finds their acceptance problematic and the issue of assimilation versus pride for their own culture.
The play is set in November, 1938 at the time of Kristallnacht in Germany; the time of “broken glass” as roving Nazi mobs broke windows, burned synagogues, looted stores owned by Jews and humiliated Jewish residents.
In Brooklyn (also the setting of several other Miller plays and where Miller lived as a teenager.) Phillip Gelburg (Steven Skybell) a middle-aged man who is an executive with a very WASP mortgage banking firm, visits the neighborhood physician, Dr. Harry Hyman ((Stephen Schnetzer) about his wife, Sylvia (Felicity Jones.) For the past 2 weeks, Sylvia has not been able to walk, stand or feel her legs though all the tests show no medical reason. She is also obsessed with the events that have occurred in Germany, reading the papers and focusing on a photograph of elderly Jewish men being forced to clean the sidewalk with toothbrushes as Nazis look on and jeer.
Hyman is puzzled by Sylvia’s condition but believes it is psychological in onset and may be caused by anxiety. He questions Phillip about their marriage and their sex life and according to him all is well.
Phillip has brushed off Sylvia’s concerns about what is going on in Germany; he views it as far away though he does admit some concern that the events will encourage American anti-Semites. He is proud to be the only Jew ever hired by his firm and that his son was one of the few Jews admitted to West Point, albeit with the help of Phillip’s WASP boss.
While Hyman attempts to treat Sylvia, he learns more about the marriage from Sylvia’s sister. All is not quite as Phillip told the doctor, particularly in the sex department. Phillip has apparently been “unable to perform” for many years.
As the one act play progresses we see conflicts within many of the characters. Phillip is proud of making it a Christian world and at times denigrates Jews –yet he is also aware on some level that his boss views him according to the Jewish stereotype. He is both trying to deny his religion and the stereotypes and also proud when he and his son, as Jews, succeed. He is worried about what is going on in Germany but feels helpless. To use a common descriptive phrase, he is “self-loathing.”
Sylvia is more in touch with her feelings but she is not just paralyzed by the anxiety she feels regarding the Nazi menace but also is unhappy in her marriage; she and Phillip have lead separate lives and she misses the independence of her pre-marriage career.
Dr. Hyman (the name is surely significant) is also paralyzed in some ways. He attended medical school in Germany because of quotas on Jewish medical students in the US and is convinced that the Germans will not continue to follow Hitler. His wife, Margaret, is Christian but it appears that he has not been a faithful husband. In fact, he seems to develop feelings for Sylvia, although they are not acted upon.
Broken Glass is a play in which Miller throws almost too many complications – I’ve not mentioned some on Phillip’s job that unsettle him and make realize how he cannot escape being a Jew. In addition, this is a play that is heavily Freudian in its symbolism and issues.
Mark Lamos gets the most out of the play and cast in his deft direction. He and the actors in the have created a reality for us.
Steven Skybell as Phillip lets us see the duality of the man – proud in many ways of his Jewishness and achievements as a Jew but also terrified that they will be stripped away. From the moment he corrects Margaret Hymen about his name – “Gellberg” not “Goldberg” which she insists on using, perhaps indicating how Christians view all Jews as the same – to the scenes as he realizes how his boss views him, Skybell creates a character torn between pride and self-hatred.
As Dr. Hyman, Stephen Schnetzer shows us a man more in touch with his reality but also blind in some spots.
The role of Sylvia is central to the play – we must be able to accept her paralysis and understand her strengths, her longings and her fear. If we do not always totally get this, it is less the fault of Felicity Jones – who is excellent in the role – and more the fault of Miller, the playwright.
The supporting cast is also excellent: John Hilner as Phillip’s boss Stanton Case; Angela Reed as Dr. Hyman’s wife, Margaret; and Merritt Janson as Sylvia’s sister, Harriet.
Lamos has assembled a fine production team including Micahel Yeargan for the scenic design which is suggestive rather than totally realistic, Candice Donnelly for the 1930s costumes, Steven Strawbridge for the lighting and David Budries for the sound.
Yet Broken Glass leaves the audience somewhat dissatisfied; too many elements, too much Freud; a too obvious message and a melodramatic ending all combine to make this a minor Miller play. Though it is just over 90 minutes, at times it seemed endless.
Broken Glass is at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through Oct. 24. For tickets visit Westport Playhouse or call 888-927-7529.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
Important Centennial: Arthur Miller, one of America’s most important playwrights and Connecticut resident, was born 100 years ago. Westport Country Playhouse is marking his centennial with a production of Broken Glass to Oct, 24. It is directed by Artistic Director Mark Lamos. Lamos said, “In its swift-moving, almost thriller-like action, Miller audaciously entwines a crippled marriage, in which the wife is herself mysteriously crippled in reaction to news of Nazi atrocities against German Jews, mirrored by a world on the verge of collapse.” For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org or call 888-927-7529.
At the Shubert: It’s still a big hit on Broadway but area residents can see the national touring production of The Book of Mormon at the Shubert Theater, New Haven from Oct. 13 to Oct. 18. Tickets are available at Shubert.com or 203-562-5666. If you feel lucky, you can participate in a lottery that will offer 20 tickets for each performance at $25 each. You must enter at the box office beginning two and a-half hours prior to the performance. A maximum of two tickets per winner.
World Premier: Yale Rep is presenting, in conjunction with La Jolla Playhouse, the world premiere of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, to Oct. 24. The play is written by Vogel and created by Vogel and Rebecca Taichman who directs. It is described as a “new play with music inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. Indecent charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.” For tickets visit yalerep.org or call 203-432-1234.
Remembering: In 1998 in Wyoming, Matthew Shepherd, a gay teenager, was brutally killed. Within weeks the Tectonic Theater Project was on the scene interviewing residents – friends of Shepherd, friends of the perpetrators and citizens. What emerged was The Laramie Project which created a compelling theater piece using the actual words the project heard. The Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs is presenting a production of this play to Oct. 18. Randy Burre, who you may know from HBO’s The Wire is a member of the cast. For tickets visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.
Plagiarism: It is a problem on college campuses and even high schools. Third by Wendy Wasserstein examines the issue of a college professor who accuses a student of plagiarism. But is she influenced by her stereotype of the student? Her assumptions? The increasingly polarized political atmosphere on campus? TheaterWorks in Hartford opens its season with a production of this thought-provoking play, to Nov. 8. Rob Ruggiero, the artistic director directs the cast which features Kate Levy as the professor. For tickets call 860-527-7838.
Leaving New Haven: Eric Ting, Long Wharf’s associate artistic director since 2004 is leaving New Haven for a new position. He has been named artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater. Congratulations and good luck.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.