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Two Estranged Brothers and an Attic Full of Old Grievances

When two brothers who haven't spoken for sixteen years meet to dispose of the contents of their family's estate, old conflicts surface. That's the premise behind Arthur Miller's searing drama, The Price.

The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington opens a new production Miller's 1968 play with a cast that includes actors from Indianapolis and San Francisco.

A Brother's Sacrifice

The title refers to the price the family will be paid for the possessions, but according to the play's director, Mark Kamie, an MFA candidate in IU's theater department, that 'price' is as symbolic as it is literal: "Really, the title refers to the price we pay for decisions we make in our life and living with those decisions and the ideas of those decisions that shape who we are."

One of those decisions was made many years ago by Victor, the younger brother. Victor dropped out of college and became a police officer to provide financial support to the brothers' father. This allowed his older brother, Walter, to have a successful career as a surgeon, leaving Victor to fume over his sacrifice ever since.

"I've got a problem with my older brother, the doctor," says Richard Massery, the San Francisco-based actor who plays Victor.

"I believe he should've helped. He kept me from moving on to college. If he had helped me support my father, I could've done more with my life." Victor's brother Walter is played by Mark Goetzinger, a professional Equity actor from Indianapolis.

Is Victor's grievance towards his brother Walter justifed? According to Massery, the play doesn't take sides in the conflict.

"It's left up to the audience whose point of view, in the end, they really want to identify with. But I think both points of view are presented."

Resonance With His Character

For Massery, the play resonates personally with its portrayal of sibling rivalry and the death of a parent.

"My father died a couple of years ago, and he had disowned me for various reasons," he says.

"He hadn't talked to my brother in thirty years, he hadn't met his three grandchildren. I'm semi-estranged from my own brother. We talk a little each year. When the play came along, I read it again, after reading it initially thirty years ago. It was like, ‘Yeah! I understand that completely.' And I also understood that doing it might be helpful for me, cathartic for me personally."

Based On Uncle Max

The Price explores one of Arthur Miller's recurring themes: how the actions of our past come to haunt us in the present. As the brothers confront each other at last, the anger they repressed for years finally comes out. The second half of the play, says Mark Kamie, "has quite intense exchanges between the characters because the pain they've experienced in the past is coming up to the surface."

The play is set in a veritable repository of the past: a cluttered attic filled with the family's possessions that have been gathering dust for decades. To sell the possessions, the brothers, along with Victor's wife Esther (Bloomington actress Gail Bray), bring in a cantankerous, elderly Jewish furniture dealer named Solomon.

Bloomington actor Jeff Stone portrays Solomon in part by drawing upon his childhood memories. "I come from old, big, Eastern-European Jewish family," Stone says. "These characters were in and out of my life, so I have real sense and feeling for them. My folks spoke Yiddish in the house, usually so we wouldn't understand what they were talking about. Solomon is my Uncle Max, and he's a million guys who have come in and around in the neighborhood and the family. Yeah, I know him."

Real-Life Reunion

While The Price depicts a reunion of two estranged brothers, this production contains a real-life reunion for three of the participants. Richard Massery, Jeff Stone, and Stone's wife Darrell were acting students at Northeastern University thirty-five years ago. They fell out of touch when Massery was mugged in New York City and his address book stolen.

Two years ago Massery, who now lives in San Francisco, reconnected with the Stones on Facebook. "We were chatting here and there, and I found out that Darrell was doing The Price, and she asked me if I would be interested in coming out to audition." In the end, Massery got the part without an audition. An endorsement from Darrell and a phone conversation with director Mark Kamie won him the part.

"So here we are," he says, "having a great reunion."

The Everyperson Approach

Darrell Stone, co-artistic director of The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington, says the theater company chose to mount The Price because it speaks both to the Jewish experience and to "pretty much every person on the planet."

"This is a play about family dynamics," she says. "It's about taking ‘the price' as a concept, and applying it in a bunch of different moments of critical thinking. What is the price of your life? What is the price of your decisions? The family dynamics are so raw, beautiful, and poignant - kind of the everyperson approach."

Mark Kamie hopes the play will lead audience members to accept the choices they make in their lives, and to realize there is contentment in being true to oneself. "I hope they walk out realizing that money shouldn't run our lives. That there's more good around us that we know."

Jeff Stone adds that he hopes the story of the play, in which the past weighs so heavily on the present, will help audiences understand that life goes on. "It just goes on - with the good, with the bad, with the ugly - you can't control it. You have deal with it and move forward. Because you're going to move forward, one way or another. So this is really about dealing and moving forward."

Moving Forward In This Season

The Price is the first of three plays that the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington is producing in 2011. Later this year they will mount My Name is Asher Lev, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, and the world premiere of Hiding in the Spotlight, the story of pianist sisters who survive World War II by hiding their Jewish identity and performing for German officers.

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