Arthur Miller's Thoughtful and Entertaining The Price Lovingly Revived
Also see Bob's review of Quartermaine's Terms
The Price is essentially the story of the more than three decade old conflict between two Irish brothers, Victor and Walter Franz. Their father had lost his business and gone bankrupt in the 1929 stock market crash. Their Manhattan brownstone house was taken over by their uncles, and the family moved into the attic apartment. Their mother passed away shortly thereafter. Unable to bounce back, their father only worked intermittently at menial jobs – making change at the automat, running errands - until his death twenty or so years later. Both brothers were outstanding students. However, rather than go on to college, Victor dropped out of college in order to support their father ("I had no choice. The fridge was empty. My father was hungry"), eventually joining the police force. Walter went off to medical school and became a wealthy surgeon, abandoning their father (save for sending $5 a month toward his support). When Victor asked Walter for $500 in order to enable him to obtain his degree, Walter turned him down. It is now 1967, and the brothers have not seen one another since the death of their father sixteen years earlier.
The play transpires in real time (a full-length one-act play, it has been long performed with an intermission, apparently to accommodate diminished audience attention spans). The setting is the attic apartment of the soon to be demolished Manhattan family brownstone. The attic is piled high with old furniture and family artifacts which now must be disposed of. Victor arrives in his police sergeant's uniform where in short order he is joined by his wife, Elizabeth. The depressed Elizabeth is in a bad place. She is dissatisfied with their financial status and misses their son who is an undergraduate at M.I.T. She wants her 50-year-old husband to retire from the police force and pursue a safer, more satisfying career. She is not employed and has taken to drinking.
They will soon be joined by Gregory Solomon, the retired, but anxious to get back into action, furniture dealer with whom Victor has made an appointment in order to sell the attic's contents. Walter has also sought out his brother Walter to join him in disposing of their property. Although Victor is far from certain that he will appear, Walter inevitably arrives in due time for the confrontation and attempt at reconciliation between the two brothers which is at the heart of the play.
Suffice it to say, Miller, the liberal conscience of the American theatre in the mid twentieth century, is extremely sympathetic to brother Walter and lends strong support to his contention that one's first obligation is to himself and his future. The major weakness of The Price is that, in order to buttress support for this argument, Miller has devised a back story involving the duplicitous and selfish nature of their father, which contains elements which are convoluted and strain credulity. However, this view clearly dovetails with the emphasis on the primacy of self preservation which informs Miller's After the Fall as well as his underrated 1991 The Ride Down Mount Morgan.
Paul Mantell is touching as the decent but unfulfilled Victor. It is clear that he has paid quite a price for his devotion to his father. Mantell admirably conveys the need that Walter has to maintain his belief that he had no other choice. Whether or not this is true, Mantell makes certain that we see that he will always be steadfast in his decency.
Whereas Walter makes telling points in his own defense, in delivering them, Rick Delaney sharply and icily conveys his hard, cold cruelty. It is one thing for Walter to seek to justify his own actions and to reveal and parade his own troubles as the price that he has paid for his chosen course, but reprehensible is his need to strip his brother bare of solace for the disappointments of his life.
Gloria Falzer does not strike any false notes as Elizabeth. Veteran Tom Brennan is most delicious in the showy and delightful role of the 90-year-old philosophical furniture dealer Solomon. His comic timing is superb. Despite the apparent provenance of his name, Brennan's Yiddish intonations are to the shtetl born.
Director Lenny Bart has adroitly captured the rhythm of Miller's characters and dialogue, perfectly pacing and orchestrating the entire performance. Bart is also responsible for the evocative scenic and lighting design. Maggie Baker-Atkins provided the appropriate, character defining costumes.
It is clear in his work that Arthur Miller deigned to burden himself with regret. As no one can do anything to change the past, this is certainly sensible. However, in The Price, Miller makes it clear that it is simply impossible not to have nagging regrets. While observing the turmoil within the Franz family, Solomon quietly mentions that long ago he had a daughter who committed suicide. "I see her every night by my bed. If she came back what could I tell her? Thank you for helping me start again".
See The Price and partake of the pleasures of a well made, old fashioned entertainment. Also listen closely, for there is wisdom here which you will not want to miss.
The Price continues performances (Thurs./Fri./Sat. 8 p.m. / Sun. 3p.m.) through March 18, 2007 at 12 Miles West Center for the Arts, 562 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. Box Office: 973-259-9187; online: www.12MilesWest.org.
The Price by Arthur Miller, directed by Lenny Bart