IOWA CITY — What price can you place on memories? Is the family selling or selling out?
Analogies are the lifeblood and lifelines coursing through Riverside Theatre’s beautifully, artfully staged production of Arthur Miller’s searing drama, “The Price,” unfolding through Nov. 18.
In a hot, dusty attic lies a legacy that 49-year-old Victor Franz (Tim Budd) must sell before the building in which he grew up is torn down. His father has been dead for 16 years, and the jumble of vintage furnishings has been lying dormant under sheets ever since. As have Victor’s memories, frustrations, anger and resentment.
The dreams of his youth turned to dust years ago when he dropped out of college to care for his aging father. Victor, a promising scientist, became a cop, eking out a meager living while older brother Walter (Kehry Anson Lane) became a highly successful doctor. They haven’t spoken in the 16 years since their father died.
Now it’s time for Victor to face his memories — and his demons — repressed for 30 years.
He is eligible for retirement from the New York police force, and whatever price he can get for the furnishings will come in handy. Dollar signs are all his wife, Esther (Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers), can see. She is obsessed with the possibilities, oblivious to the layers of pain unleashed as Victor removes each sheet, ripping a Band-Aid off each deep-seated wound.
His family lived the high life until the stock market crashed, spiraling them into poverty overnight. The only vestiges of their former life lie in a bedroom closet, a massive armoire and an ornate harp with a cracked soundboard.
Victor has scrounged up an aged furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (Jim Kern), to set a price and haul away the furnishings. Solomon creaks up the stairs and into the room, then begins a cagey dance designed to throw Victor off-guard.
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Victor is in a hurry. The world-weary Russian immigrant must wear him down, first by eating his lunch, then by launching into stories at a most frustrating, plodding pace.
When Esther enters the fray, old walls begin crumbling around them, revealing their vulnerabilities. And then lo and behold, the prodigal brother arrives, claiming he wants no part of the proceedings, but weaseling into them nonetheless.
This is an A-list cast expertly guided through the plot’s pitfalls by the theater’s new artistic director, Adam Knight. He makes a most impressive debut leading one of the Corridor’s finest theater companies.
S. Benjamin Farrar’s stunning scenery and lighting design continues the adroit, colorful thread he wove through “The Cake” to launch Riverside’s season in September. Costume designer Karle Meyers not only captures the midcentury period, but the rumpled suit that mirrors Solomon’s crumpled character.
The beauty of Miller’s finely-crafted play is that every character has long-buried wounds that begin to simmer beneath the surface, then boil over in a flood of emotion. Anyone who has ever loved and lost, felt adolescent angst or settled a family estate will see themselves in this wrenching, timeless saga.
WHAT: “The Price”
WHERE: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
WHEN: To Nov. 18; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $30, Riversidetheatre.org/the-price
EXTRA: Talkback with Miriam Gilbert following Nov. 9 performing
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