GLOUCESTER -- The ties that bind can also restrain, and in Arthur Miller's ``The Price," a man has been rendered nearly immobile by his chafing, choking family ties.
Gloucester Stage Company has staged a moving production of Miller's emotional work about family, money, and unrealized dreams. In the play, set in 1967, a New York City police officer returns to his childhood home, which is about to be torn down, to sell his long-dead father's estate. His estranged brother shows up just as he's about to cut a deal with an antiques dealer, and the siblings begin to dredge up the past, and the truth, in increasingly hurtful detail.
The story unfolds in an attic crowded with old furniture. An armoire, sofa, dining-room table -- everything is draped in sheets, which makes the set appear to be populated by ghosts, and in fact, it is. These inanimate hunks of wood and metal carry the imprints of their owners; they have borne witness to their unhappy lives. Victor and Walter Franz's parents died long ago, yet they are clearly in the room with them: the father in the shape of his green velvet chair, the mother in the harp standing gracefully in the corner.
Victor, played by Michael Serratore, is the dutiful son, the soft-hearted cop who stayed behind to care for his father while his brother, Walter -- portrayed with slick, patronizing perfection by Harold Dixon, who's also the director -- went off to become a successful doctor.
The brothers couldn't be more different: Victor, in a police uniform that doesn't quite fit, is a simple blue-collar guy who is about to turn 50 and thinks that life has passed him by; Walter walks fast and talks fast and seems to have the world on a string. This dynamic is heightened by Victor's wife, Esther (Marina Re), a devoted but demanding woman in high heels and pearls who longs for her husband to pursue a more lucrative career. She is the one who finally breaks open a family wound that has been festering for years.
It's a heavy story, so thank goodness for the ancient Russian antiques dealer (the delightful Sol Frieder) who tells amusing and heartbreaking stories as he inspects the furniture. The elderly Frieder is an effortless actor. When he first shuffles up to the stage, it almost seems as if a confused old man in the audience has accidentally wandered into the picture. ``With used furniture," Frieder's Gregory Solomon keeps telling Victor, ``you cannot be emotional." Which, of course, is exactly what Victor becomes.
At first Serratore seems a bit stiff. But in the second act, as Victor realizes what lay behind his decision to drop out of college and pursue a career he can't stand, he begins to rumble with rage and hurt. His expansive forehead furrows every which way, and the bottled-up bitterness and betrayal pour out.
Miller is showing us a family's baggage, represented by a lifetime's worth of shrouded possessions stuffed into one room. At Gloucester Stage, the story rings painfully true.