This year, Ithaca has a reason to celebrate. No small feat for a nonprofit company, according to director Rachel Lampert, The Kitchen Theatre in downtown Ithaca is enjoying it’s 15th year in business and inaugurating this landmark event with an American classic, Arthur Miller’s The Price.
The Kitchen Theatre Company’s (KTC) theatre is unique in its small size but enormous stature. The theatre itself seats only 73 people, creating a rare and intimate theatre experience with both the actors and fellow audience members. When Lampert walked onstage to give a brief speech, she was met by spontaneous applause, to which she replied, “Sure. Why not?” She then joked with an audience that had heard the joke so many times they told it with her, referring to the theatre’s orchestra (first row), mezzanine (second row), balcony (third row) and royal box seats (side sections. This friendship established well before the show began epitomizes what is so special about the KTC.
This year, Lampert says that it is “a time for the KTC to explore the great plays of the American canon.” The Price, classic American theatre by a classic American playwrite, is an excellent place to start. Arthur Miller’s play about the struggle within a family to come to terms with their life choices touches on many themes common to his work. It plays the working man off of the wealthy upperclassman, the dynamics of falling out of immense wealth into apparent destitution, examining the psychology of mental defeat after the depression and ultimately the costs of the choices we make. It compares monetary price with emotional price and delves into the evaluation of success and failure.
The play focuses on the Franz brothers who are clearing out their father’s building so that it can be demolished. The set is impressive with it’s cluttered and interesting collection of old furniture and knick knacks, and is visually stimulating, evoking warmth, sadness and painful history. The two brothers, Vic (Eric Brooks) and Walter (Greg Bostwick) haven’t spoken in 16 years, and finally reconnect over the sale of the Franz family possessions, all piled up on the top floor of the building, to an incredibly old but amusingly wise furniture salesman, Gregory Solomon (R. M. Fury).
At the heart of the drama is Vic’s decision to stay with his ailing father instead of pursuing his passion for science while his brother chose to finish school and become a wealthy and successful doctor. Walter, in an almost neverending effort to rebuild his relationship with his brother, acknowledges his brother’s life-long struggles saying, “You’d made a choice. You wanted a real life and that’s expensive. It costs.” The play is about that cost, one that Vic is still resentful of, especially when the truth about his father and their monetary situation is revealed. The tension and anger in this play is held in check, at least partially, by Esther (Leigh Keeley), Vic’s conflict-aversive wife who cares about both wealth and her husband’s happiness.
The four actors in this production do a solid job of depicting the frustration and anger in the family, and the desperation of defining life as a success or a failure. Brooks plays a somewhat mopey and downtrodden Vic, invoking an incredible sympathy at his inability to leave his father despite the lies, suspicion and coldheartedness of the man he gave his life to. He is the typical blue collar hero of Miller’s plays, but Brooks adds a universal sense of humanity to his struggle that resonates no matter what walk of life the audience is from. Bostwick does a wonderful job combining the reason, ambition and need for human interaction in his depiction of Walter. He is both despicable in his ruthless ambition and feeling towards his family and sympathetic in his depiction of the basic need for love and forgiveness. Adding some much-appreciated comedy to the production, Fury does a wonderful job with the mannerisms and quirky characteristics of Solomon. He is a pure joy to watch. Lastly, Keeley plays Esther as a somewhat airy, wishy-washy wife. However, she did a good job of asserting her importance in situations and presence in scenes despite the tendency of the play to allow Esther to fall into the background.
Lampert made what might have been a stagnant conversation or an overdramatized family fight into an invigorating and enthralling peek into a family that could belong to anyone. The charm of the play and this production is its ability to connect with anyone’s problems because it focuses on the process of making choices rather than simply looking at their tragic results. In addition, the interaction between the actors and the clutter around them added to the feeling of history, attachment and deep-rooted family strife.
The play was thought-provoking without giving an answer to the many questions it brought up. It asks how important money is for happiness and what exactly merits the kind devotion that Vic gave to his father. In highlighting these important questions, The Price lived up to the KTC tagline, “Important conversations happen in the Kitchen.” With The Price, the KTC offers a compelling and invigorating night of theatre.
Archived article by Becky Wolozin
Sun Staff Writer