In the late 1940s, Arthur Miller first gripped audiences and garnered fame by exploring explosive family dynamics with All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. About 20 years later he returned to similar themes in The Price, focusing again on a father and sons. And again, an essential issue dominates: the price we pay to make our lives significant. As before, superbly developed characters can grab us, reaching for compassion while telling us about people like ourselves.
Watching superior actors is an even better reason to immerse yourself in the experience. And in directing The Price at Pittsburgh Public Theater, City Theatre artistic director Tracy Brigden again shows, in a different venue, that her insight as a director remains in place, bringing out the best of these talents.
Sixteen years after their father died, Victor and Walter, profoundly estranged, come together to dispose of what's left of their parents' worldly goods in the attic where they used to live. The building is slated to be torn down, but the main issue is whether the brothers' relationship can be rebuilt.
The family's past hovers amid piles of memories, old furniture and dust. And the haunting recollection of their father remains a constantly felt presence. Revelations and recriminations dominate their space and time, witnessed by a life-affirming man old enough to be their father, used-furniture-dealer Gregory Solomon.
Certainly symbolisms abound, another testament to Miller's consistently brilliant subtexts. Equally important, he has provided these brothers with thought-provoking, thoroughly human behavior. No black. No white. Just profound gray, like the shadows in Luke Hegel-Cantarella's evocative set. Sherman Howard creates a remarkable, multidimensional version of Walter, while Joseph Adams admirably calls forth the sorrow and pity permeating Victor's soul. Both masterfully reveal the levels-within-levels that Miller wrote.
Noble Shropshire's take on Gregory Solomon, the only comic element in the play, comes across amusingly and cleverly, although the character could have more dimension than he puts into it. Chandler Vinton has the thankless role of an unsympathetic character, Victor's wife, Esther. Vinton's rather grating voice adds to the right impression that Esther is another source of Victor's dissatisfaction with the life he chose for himself.
As the brothers try to reach across the emotional detritus of imperfect lives, they struggle for understanding and reconciliation. It's a family story, alas, we may know too well. Miller tells it with perceptive depth, and this production honors what he has to say.
The Price continues through April 4. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org