Preparing to play an 89-year-old furniture appraiser in Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” the much-younger actor Conrad Feininger had some help from his father.
His father died a year ago at 101, and over the years, Feininger observed a once-vibrant man begin to deteriorate over time.
“Seeing him go through extreme old age made it much easier to physicalize the experience on stage,” said the Washington, D.C.-based actor, who plays Gregory Solomon in the season-opening production for the Banyan Theater Company.
Over 20 years, Feininger said he watched his father’s decline from “someone going sailing and riding a bicycle in his early 80s to someone who had incredible trouble just opening an envelope.”
The actor’s role is a center point around which “The Price” revolves as it depicts long-simmering disputes between two estranged brothers. Victor and Walter have not spoken in years but they are now in the process of disposing of their late father’s possessions after his death.
Charlie Kevin plays Victor Franz, a policeman, opposite Peter Thomasson as Walter Franz, a successful surgeon. Each has kept silent about the things that came between them until they are forced to deal with their father’s possessions. And feelings that should have been expressed years ago come out amid lots of emotions and bitterness.
Lauren Wood plays Victor’s wife, Esther, in the production directed by Don Walker.
Thomasson has become a summer regular at Banyan, appearing most recently in last season’s “Heroes.”
“The Price” was first produced in 1968 and while it has not reached the popularity of Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” or “All My Sons,” both Walker and Feininger said it makes some powerful points on a human, family level.
“So much of the trouble these brothers have has to do with reactions to things that were unspoken,” Walker said. “If they just talked it out, things would have turned out different. Each thought one thing and let themselves be driven apart. So, maybe this can be seen as a cautionary tale so that we don’t let the silence come between us.”
Feininger said the play is about “learning to let go. It’s about not being haunted by history. Solomon has his own issues. He helped his daughter to a fine misery to the point where she kills herself. I’m not saying it was Solomon’s fault, but he’s haunted by it. He can’t let go of it.”
Feininger played Solomon last year at the Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis, Maryland, and he said that it is the rare role that he is looking forward to repeating.
“I’ve repeated a lot of stuff, but this is the first part that I feel like I could spend a lifetime doing. But you have to be careful what you wish for,” he said. “Solomon feels the most like what opera must feel like to singers. Once you have it inside yourself, you can do it as differently as the next production wants.”
“The Price” marks the third time Walker has directed for the Banyan. He’s best known to area audiences as an actor, and he said he brings an actor’s ideology into the rehearsal room.
“I’m mainly a watcher at this point. I’m trying to make sure that I’m the actor’s ombudsman in a sense, so that I encourage them to be stronger here or quieter here, or think about this a little more here. There’s some straightforward direction and some nudging and suggesting. We have the good fortune to have an intelligent cast, an experienced cast, and I can just let them work.”
“The Price” launches the Banyan’s 13th season, which continues with “The Sty of the Blind Pig” by Philip Hayes Dean. Jim Wise will direct the play, which is set in the 1950s in Chicago’s South Side, just before the start of the civil rights movement. It’s about the relationship among several members of a family and a street singer who shows up looking for someone he once knew. Dean, best known for a play about Paul Robeson, died earlier this year. It runs July 17-Aug. 3.
The season’s final show is Donald Margulies’ “Collected Stories,” about the relationship between a once-prominent writer and a student who becomes a rival. It will run Aug. 7-54.
THE PRICE. June 26-July 13 at the Cook Theatre in the FSU/Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $28.50. Subscriptions are $52 for two shows, $70 for three shows. “The Sty of the Blind Pig” runs July 17-Aug. 3; “Collected Stories” runs Aug. 7-24. Tickets are $28.50, $52 for two shows, $70 for three shows. 351-2808; banyantheatercompany.com