The Price

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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The Price, written by that pillar of American drama, Arthur Miller, made its Broadway debut in 1968, where it ran for 429 performances and garnered two Tony-Award nominations--one for Best Play and the other for Best Scenic Design.

This rarely produced script puts focus on family dynamics, as grown brothers sort out the property of their recently deceased father. Not only do the two estranged siblings, one a New York City cop, the other a  successful surgeon, attempt to put a price on items such as furniture; they also find themselves assessing the value of certain life decisions.

Now So Cal theatergoers have the opportunity to see these proceedings played out by a consummate cast that includes masterful performances by multigenerational actors – Kate Burton (daughter of Richard) and Sam Robards (son of Jason) – at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, through March 22.

Directed at a crawl’s pace by Garry Hynes, this Miller play explores themes that have been excavated in other Miller conceits: broken families from the era of the Great Depression haunted by the ethically questionable dealings of a patriarch. Previous Miller dramas that set such family stakes at center stage are All My Sons and the quintessential tragedy of the common man, Death of a Salesman.

Here the father is represented by an empty chair, placed downstage, center, but facing upstage. It sits empty for the duration of the show. It seems to haunt the circumstances, as if the spirit of the father is overseeing the dealings underway. Add to this an octogenarian appraiser, Gregory Solomon (Alan Mandell finding and squeezing every bit of humor from this challenging performance), called upon by Victor Franz (Sam Robards, in a uniquely conflicted portrayal) to assess the value and determine a price for all the items from his father’s estate. Again we have a generational divide between Victor and an elder that’s going to determine the value of the contents of his life.

While Victor is based on a true-life acquaintance of Miller’s – Irving Abrams who had the highest IQ on the New York Police Department at the time of his service – the character in the play feels cheated by his life situation. After all, it was his older brother, Walter (John Bedford Lloyd in an enthralling portrayal), who had the support of their father to attend medical school and enter the American professional class.

Meanwhile, Victor took a position as a civil servant in the NYPD to look after and care for his aging dad. Still everyone, including Victor’s longtime wife, Esther (Kate Burton in a naturally rendered characterization), belittle Victor for not making the most of his ample potential. Ironically, we learn that even their father held more respect for the well-achieving Walter than for the dedicated Victor. Can a price be put on devotion? How is success to be measured? It’s no coincidence that the appraiser’s name is Solomon. He’s the one who determines the value of the estate while the brother’s haggle at the price that each has paid during their lifetimes for their life choices.

The Price, at two and-a-half hours in length, continues at the Mark Taper Forum through March 22. The Mark Taper is located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Evening performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and on Sundays at 1 p.m. For reservations, call (213) 628-2772. For online ticketing, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.