Kenneth Tigar as Gregory Solomon. Photo by T. Charles Erickson, courtesy of Syracuse Stage.
My mother was born in '29, the year of the Wall Street stock market crash that sent the country over the cliff into the Great Depression. Growing up in my grandparents' house -- the necessity and incredible luck of that being another legacy of that era -- I heard stories about that day, among them how my grandfather had a truck back up to the side door of the house, from which he filled the shelves in the cellar with food. He was just a generation from the Irish famines. My grandfather was a small-time, small-town entrepreneur. He owned a couple dairy farms that were mostly tax write-offs, ran the stock-yard next to the railroad (my favorite hangout until my grandmother decreed it was "no place for a little girl"), had some men driving truck and a squad of boys trapping beaver and muskrat. My grandfather held onto his business and even loaned some farmers money. Years after he died, my grandmother told me they'd argued because he never foreclosed on the notes when people couldn't pay. "I guess it's a good thing he was so easy," she said. "I'm living on the last of those payments now." When her house needed clearing out, my next youngest sister -- who had moved to Maine at what then seemed an inopportune time -- came back to help.
"So," said my friend as the lights went down for Arthur Miller's "The Price" at Syracuse Stage last Friday night, "what's this play about? You know I can't follow these things."
"You'll have to watch," I said.
Set in 1967 in the cavernous attic of a Manhattan brownstone about to be torn down, this production of "The Price" - utterly riveting as directed by Tim Bond - ostensibly concerns the two Franz brothers, Victor, a police sergeant (Richard McWilliams), and Walter, a well-off surgeon (Tony DeBruno). They've not spoken since their father died sixteen years before, broken in spirit by the stock market crash and ending his days in the attic with a hotplate -- the family's finery reduced to mostly out-of-style furnishings, a dusty top hat, Victor's mother's chipped harp, a pile of old 78 records and Victor's college fencing mask and foil. Victor has engaged an elderly appraiser, Gregory Solomon (Kenneth Tigar), with hopes he'll buy the attic's contents. Berated by his wife Esther (Carmen Roman) not to be hood-winked out a good price, Victor wants the stuff off his hands too. And Victor is torn about what he owes his brother from the sale. He's half relieved, half resentful that Walter never called him back.