Theater / Film
GableStage’s Bari Newport bridges past & future with an Arthur Miller classic
The characters played by Gregg Weiner, left, Patti Gardner and Michael McKenzie clash over choices in the GableStage production of “The Price.” (Photo courtesy of George Schiavone)
For any professional theater company, the journey from choosing a play to celebrating its opening night involves hundreds of decisions, endless creative collaboration, and the refining of a vision.
Now imagine the greater complexity of that process after a 20-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, add to all of that the death of this particular theater’s award-winning producing artistic director, Joseph Adler – a man whose aesthetic was reflected in everything his company did – not long after the pandemic shutdown.
As GableStage’s Bari Newport gets ready to open her first production at the company she’ll lead into a new era, she has already faced all of those challenges. And she’s ready to take on the ones to come.
“My goal for GableStage is to have a healthy, vibrant theater company – a citizen of the arts community that goes way beyond the plays we do. And I want to make sure that the actors are a priority,” she says.
At the same time, she is relying on the team she has assembled – many longtime GableStage staff members and creative associates, others new to the company – to keep the theater moving forward while she’s in rehearsals for Arthur Miller’s “The Price.”
“I’m trying to do the most important thing we do: putting on depth-filled plays that tell human stories,” Newport says.
“The Price,” which premiered on Broadway in 1968, was to have opened at GableStage in March 2020 as Adler’s final production. However, in mid-March, the play’s opening was pushed back, then canceled. The cast, designers, staff and Adler were devastated, knowing how little time he had left and how much the playwright, the play and its themes meant to him.
After Newport left the Penobscot Theatre Co. in Bangor, Maine, to take the helm at GableStage, she began assembling an eclectic, adventurous first season. She chose “The Price” as her opener for reasons both practical and empathetic.
“The [Lyle Baskin] set was already onstage. We’ve added a lot to it, and also to the costumes, the sound, the lights,” she says. “People haven’t had time to properly grieve. It’s not like I’m taking over from someone who retired after five years. It’s a passing of the baton, with longtime GableStage actors.”
Set in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone in the late ’60s, Miller’s four-character play examines the consequences of choices, regret over roads not taken, the devastating power of family secrets.
New York police sergeant Victor Franz (Gregg Weiner) has come with his wife, Esther (Patti Gardner), to the place where his late father’s furniture and a lifetime of difficult memories are crammed together.
He hasn’t had luck communicating with his estranged doctor-brother Walter (Michael McKenzie) about getting rid of the stuff before the building is torn down, but an octogenarian, used-furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (Peter Haig), is coming ’round to assess what the haul might be worth – and, Victor hopes, buy it all.
In taking on “The Price,” and incorporating another director’s vision into her own, Newport acknowledges that she faced some unique challenges.
“I did not know this play. I’m not an Arthur Miller aficionado,” says the director, who is now steeped in the world of “The Price.”
“I asked Katie [Ellison, the stage manager] for Joe’s blocking notes, so I could see why the furniture placement was the way it was to help me understand more about how Joe staged things,” she adds. “The movement indicates changes that happen, an idea of how he saw the play unfolding, what its beats were.”
Newport could also draw on the memories of Gardner and McKenzie, who were part of Adler’s production. (Actor Tom Wahl, originally cast as Victor, was committed to the upcoming Palm Beach Dramaworks world premiere of Michael McKeever’s “The People Downstairs,” so the role was re-cast with longtime GableStage actor Weiner.)
Nonetheless, Newport has crafted a version of “The Price” that reflects her interpretation of the play.
“Miller was a genius who wrote about complex themes that affect everyone. He wrote timeless pieces about our existential choices. He asked what price we pay for the choices we make, now or later,” she observes.
She points to a wide timeline on one wall near the stage, a paper with detailed notes about the events referenced in the play, from the ruinous Great Depression to 1968.
“This is different. I do things differently,” she says. “I’ve added the idea of time, which is extremely important, hence the timeline and the multiple clocks on the set. Beth [Fath, the props designer] and I have added more and more to it.”
GableStage’s theater space in the historic Biltmore Hotel has been refurbished and upgraded since Newport’s arrival, with fresh paint, new carpet, a better backstage area and more. For the cast, returning to a place where all except McKenzie had appeared in multiple Adler productions has been bittersweet, nostalgic and inspiring.
Weiner, who won two Carbonell Awards in 17 previous GableStage appearances, is now based in New York. He has felt complex emotions about returning to a place that helped shape him as an actor for more than two decades.
“I dreaded coming back here, because I thought it would hit me like a truck. But once the work began, I realized it wasn’t about being sad that someone is gone,” says the actor, who is tackling his first Miller work and who calls “The Price” a “dense-ass play.”
He adds of his late friend: “I never met anyone like Joe. His voice is in my head. I try to think what he would think, and I know. I miss him every day.”
Weiner and Gardner have worked together in a number of shows, though this is their first time playing husband and wife. But that history is beneficial.
“We listen and work off of each other. We know each other’s rhythms and intonations,” he says.
Gardner says doing her 11th GableStage show has filled her with emotion.
“Everyone remembers what it was like to leave and then revisit the play in just 18 months. I’m a different person now. It’s exciting and emotional,” she says. “Bari has been incredible. If anyone can take the ball and run with it, it’s Bari … Her communication skills are great, and she’s so collaborative.”
Doing his seventh GableStage show, Haig, who has appeared in two earlier productions of “The Price,” appreciates the chance to play the wily Solomon.
“This is a dream role for an older actor,” says Haig, who compares the character’s dialogue deep into the first act to an aria.
Although McKenzie has yet to experience his first GableStage opening night, he recalls Adler’s process during rehearsals.
“Joe really worked moment to moment. He would open up a moment, really zero in on something,” says McKenzie, whose acting resume includes three Broadway shows. “In this time off, the play has really percolated in my brain. I think I realized I was doing it totally wrong. I find myself wishing Joe could see it.”
Moving forward, Newport will continue to do things her way at GableStage.
She plans to be outside the theater an hour before every performance to talk about the company’s future and answer guests’ questions. For each show during the season, Newport and the cast will offer a talkback about the play following the first Sunday matinee of the run. She’s determined to grow the theater’s subscription audience and is hoping that her choices will also draw younger theatergoers.
Since taking the GableStage job, Newport has made a point of meeting as many people as possible in the theater and arts communities, and she has traveled throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to see shows at multiple theaters.
“Theater here is so unique. It’s incredibly distinctive for this place,” she says. “It’s hand-curated for this community, and it’s done exceptionally well. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
To read the review of this play, click here.
WHAT: “The Price” by Arthur Miller
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 12
WHERE: GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
COST: $35-$70 (plus an additional $5 processing fee and $5 COVID cleaning fee per ticket); discounts available for students, groups, artists, military, veterans and Biltmore staff members
SAFETY PROTOCOLS: Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test are required.
STREAMING: A streaming option is available beginning Nov. 17; cost is the same as the price of a regular ticket. Check with the box office for details.
INFORMATION: 305-445-1119; gablestage.org/the-price