ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, acttheatre.org. $20 and up. Runs Tues.–Sun. Ends June 22.
Overshadowed by his prior hits (Death of a Salesman, etc.), Arthur Miller’s psychologically astute mid-career (1968) drama is finding new fans through recent revivals around the country, including ACT’s deeply satisfying one, sensitively steered by Victor Pappas. Its themes feel bespoke for today: the emotional fallout from economic distress; the fear of one’s own idealism; the need to self-actualize (no one else will do it for you); and the life-shaping rationalizations we invent to justify our past misjudgments. Four great performances in a well-wrought, timely story make this a production you should go out of your way to see.
The gist: Policeman Victor (Charles Leggett) and surgeon Walter (Peter Lohnes) converge in their childhood bedroom after many years to dispose of their Depression-wrecked parents’ belongings, aided by elderly Jewish furniture dealer Mr. Solomon (Peter Silbert). A thankfully far cry from Hoarders, the stuff on Robert Dahlstrom’s maze-like set reflects twin yearnings for conformity and individuality: bourgeois “Spanish Jacobean” must-haves sprinkled with science projects and kooky fad Victrola records. The task of appraising the jumble prompts long-overdue stock-taking for the long-estranged brothers. Each sees the past through an entirely distinct lens, with Victor’s good-sport-whose-patience-is-wearing-thin wife Esther (Anne Allgood) rounding out the play’s Rashomon-esque trifocal vision.
Leggett wears Victor’s life vanquishment quietly, in the slack of his face, the melt of his shoulders. He was the “good” son, who sacrificed his schooling to support his father while Walter took off and never looked back. Victor’s summation of his father’s failure to recover from the Depression—“Some men don’t bounce”—applies the more aptly to himself. By contrast, Lohnes brings jaunty energy to his scenes—energy fracked from Walter’s permitting himself to experience life’s highest highs and lowest depths, rather than hewing to the middle. It’s a difficult, morally ambiguous role, which he manages masterfully. Meanwhile, Esther’s admiration and disgust ping-pongs between the men, reflecting the audience’s uncertainty about whose actions and values are more virtuous.
And what, you might ask, about the antiques dealer? Fasten your borscht belts for some A-game shtick from Silbert, returning to ACT after a 14-year absence. His delectable Solomon waxes chatty, feigns dudgeon, nibbles an egg, cadges salt for the egg, grabs his own face like a homicidal starfish, praises the lady, mimes rolling out the royal carpet, etc. He’s the wise, mythical nudge who catalyzes the inevitable blowout between brothers and has the last laugh—though not how you might think.