The Price DontrellWe haven’t been going to the theatre as voraciously as we had been, say four months ago. Two brief stints at Good Samaritan Hospital have made us more selective about the number of outings we take. But this week, we had the pleasure of seeing two shows we’re both glad to have not missed.

On Wednesday, we made our way to The Mark Taper Forum to see “The Price,” by Arthur Miller, a play which I’d not met, either on page or stage. I knew about it from conversations with my husband, who had seen it in NY when he was a young member of Lincoln Center Repertory. There were many reasons I wanted to see it:

We’re subscribers and had the tickets.

Both Kate Burton and Alan Mandell were in it. I’m big fans of them.

I had heard about obscenely large props budget for the show. (I know, theatre geek.)

I have some familiarity with Miller, from touring with “Death of A Salesman.”  In the spirit of full disclosure here’s some theatrical blasphemy.  I find him a bit on the long-winded side, with a side of fifties schmaltz that tends to date his work.

No matter how adept the actors are who perform in “Death of A Salesman,” and I’ve seen Phillip Baker Hall (LATC), Hal Holbrook (the previously mentioned tour) and most recently, Brian Dennehy in Robert Fall’s production at the Ahmanson Theatre, that play is a tad turgid and depressing. I guess that’s the point; we all suffer from the same career and emotional free fall as Willy does. Our landing is hard, uncushioned by Linda’s attempts to buck him up, and accelerated by Willy’s pathetic encounters with his clients and a hooker in a seedy hotel.

A picture of the old Wertz Brothers Furniture Warehouse. Matt Saunders’ Scenic Design for “The Price” removed the visual chatter of smaller pieces of furniture, leaving the more staid pieces.

“The Price” is a 360 degree tour after the death of a father and division of his belongings between the child who stayed to care for him and the child who left to escape the pain of his sibling’s life. The show’s set was extraordinary – money well spent, I’d say. Matt Saunders’ set evoked a more spartan version of the Wertz Brothers’ old antique store with corridors created by beautiful wooden armoires, vanities, dressers, dining tables, with chairs upside down atop the larger pieces in pairs of twos. These object sculptures, in warm rich wood tones, were lit evocatively by James F. Ingalls, and filled the upstage area. The departed father’s lair, now empty,  sat downstage, the back of his huge armchair facing the audience, surrounded by the smaller human detritus of a lonely man’s existence.

Alan Mandell, as the antique dealer, Gregory Solomon, has come to buy the furniture, and one senses that he’d have made the same  $1,100.00 offering for whatever the younger son had to sell. Mandell was extravagant, amazing, really. At 89, Solomon’s interest and intention to appraise and acquire such a large collection is sheer folly, the glee of which is captured by Mandell’s impish expression.  Sam Robard’s character, Victor Franz, is at a crossroads. This hard-earned inheritance may make it possible for him to retire, if he can make the move, something his long-suffering wife has long desired. Kate Burton seethes with a tightly controlled rage at her husband’s lassitude which eventually explodes in Act II. Director Garry Hynes uses the scenic corridors to usher Solomon in and out of the room as  Miller examines the brothers’ relationships to each other, to the money problems of their father, and to what they did or didn’t know throughout the course of their lives. It was an extremely entertaining evening.

Today, we ventured to the Skylight Theatre, to watch  the Rolling World Premier of “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” by Nathan Alan Davis. Co-Produced by the Skylight Theatre Company, Producer Gary Grossman & Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble Producer, Gregg T. Daniel, this striking play about a young man’s discovery of his ancestry is deftly directed by Gregory Wallace.

I knew we were in for a treat, when we entered the intimate theatre and saw the three off white, draped fabric panels evoking fishing nets or boat sails. The actor playing the title character, Omete Anassi, is a USC student where he studies Pre-Medical Neuroscience, and minors in Dramatic Arts. His character, is a youthful nerdy reporter to the future, speaking his narration into a late 90s personal tape recorder. The versatile cast of seven actors morphs from African chorus to the members of Dontrell’s dysfunctional family. Ayana Cahrr’s fluid choreography underlines Dontrell’s spiritual journey with boldly wielded sticks which the troupe pounds thunderously on the floor in rhythm to the drumming by Charles McCoy and Haley McHugh. Stephanie Kerley Schwart’z minimal set pieces, wooden like the theatre’s overhead beams, are moved around, to form intricate assemblages of tables, beds, the dining table turning into the vessel for the deus ex machina late in the play. Jeff McLaughlin’s lighting inventory is spare, used with skill along with three projectors, to create the watery depths of the sea. David Marling’s sound design and Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costume design create strong aural and visual impressions for the multiple locations of the script. I found the story very moving, and told with a stark, but lyric simplicity which made it even more powerful.

So, all in all, it was a gratifying week in the theatre. See you soon at the theatre!


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