Monday, March 25, 2013

The Folklore of Brothers

Sibling rivalry and brotherly love are at the heart of one of our most basic family relationships. Since the dawn of time, the details of fraternal workings have been explored again and again in myths, legends and folktales. Countless are the lessons they tell about how to – or how not to – resolve familial conflicts.

Romulus and Remus who founded Rome, the linguistic Brothers Grimm who recorded fairytales and the Harbaugh brothers who coached competing football teams in the Super Bowl spark our collective curiosity. What happens when each brother has his own idea about how to live life and about what is fair, right and wrong. What happens if they have differences that remain unresolved?

Cinnabar Theater brings the subject to light in their production of The Price, a 1968 play by Arthur Miller. In this piece Miller explores the conflict between brothers after the death of their father. Victor and Walter Franz are estranged. Choices made in the past come to light when they meet to take care of their father’s estate. The situation highlights each one’s sense of entitlement, responsibility and more.

I spoke recently with Charles Siebert of Healdsburg an award winning actor who plays the role of Gregory Solomon, an older Russian-Jewish antique dealer whom the brothers bring their father’s furnishings to about brothers, family dynamics and more.

Siebert’s noted Broadway appearances include the 1968 musical "Jimmy Shine," featuring Dustin Hoffman in the title role; Neil Simon's "The Gingerbread Lady," with Maureen Stapleton; and the 1974 revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," with Elizabeth Ashley and Fred Gwynne.

He has also appeared in a range of TV shows, including "Another World," "As The World Turns," and  "The Rockford Files." Following his performance as Dr. Stanley Riverside II, on "Trapper John, M.D.” he worked as a director for several successful television series including "Xena: Warrior Princess."

Q: This play is about family dynamics, in particular two brothers who have tensions about past decisions.  What does your character Gregory Solomon the antique dealer make of the sibling conflicts?

A: He's been around a long long time and has seen many conflicts of this nature before. He has the wisdom of age (his name is Solomon after all) and understands this tension. He tries to help the brothers understand that little will come of their continuing animosity towards one another but at the end he simply accepts the reality, shrugs his shoulders, and says, "What can you do?"

Q: Do you yourself have siblings? If so how does your own experience inform your role as Solomon? Issues between siblings is not new. Critical life passages (such as birth and death) can alter those relationships.

A: I am the oldest of four sons. Solomon resonates for me because of his heritage. He is described by the author as being Russian Yiddish. Essentially, my creation of the character is a channeling of our grandfather, Samuel Rosenblum, of Minsk (in what is now Belarus). My brothers and I have had our conflicts and estrangements over the years but all is well now.

Q: Your character understands the brothers’ have a strained relationship, yet he does not meddle in their affairs. Why not?

A: Solomon has lived a long life, seen much and is at philosophical peace with the world. He's not a hero either but simply a tough nut who has endured and continues to endure with a sense of humor and sagacity.

Q: What do you hope audiences gain from this production? 

A: The satisfaction of recognition. There is a great cathartic effect to experiencing a work of art in which the audience sees a life situation they know well, elegantly worked out in front of them leaving them with a satisfaction, not necessarily in how the problem resolves, but rather in the exhilaration of the shared experience. We all have the same emotions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, disappointments, tragedies, but art makes them a bit more bearable. This play touches us and brings, for the moment, closer together.

The Price, opened on Broadway in 1968 and over the course of its Broadway career was performed 429 times.  It was nominated for two 1968 Tony Awards, for Best Play and Best Scenic Design. In 1971 it was adapted for television as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame on the NBC network.
About The Play: Runs through April 7. 8pm Friday-Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets: $15-$25. For reservations, call (707) 763.8920. Cinnabar Theater: 3333 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma. Details: Photo: Eric Chazankin

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