The Price

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater
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What is the tie that binds? Arthur Miller's drama, cloaked in psychological subtexts, explores the relationship of two brothers,  the complexities of marriage, and the endurance of all of us struggling along in life. A lesser work of Miller's, it nonetheless provides some insight into his playwriting ambitions and how he finds personal meaning as he explores the notion that there is a price to be paid.

Victor Franz (David Nevell) is a veteran policeman who is nearing retirement with decisions to make about the future. His wife, Esther (Elyse Mirto), is pushing for a change in their predictable existence, and Victor is chafing under her pressure. There is affection demonstrated but also underlying frustration as Esther sees disappointment ahead.

The play begins in the upper story of a building where Victor's deceased father has stored a lifetime of possessions. The building is being torn down, so Victor must finally face getting rid of everything, and he has called someone to come and give him an appraisal and take the lot. He has called his semi-estranged brother, wealthy doctor Walter (Bo Foxworth), multiple times to participate, but he gets no response.

Enter Gregory Solomon (Tony Abatemarco), a furniture dealer that Victor picked out of the phone book. He is an aging Russian Jew whose appraisal takes on more than price. His pronouncements on life further the plot, as the two brothers finally come together, wrestle with the past, and try to find unattained common ground.

Director John Henry Davis underplays the constant undercurrent of regret to advantage. It  is a play that tries to be many things, sometimes overwhelming the characters. Though it is clear from the outset that things are not going to go well, it takes a long time to get there. We learn about Esther's problems, Solomon's health, Victor's deference to his brother and his sense of fairness, and Walter's unraveling life fueled by ambition. That's a big chunk to bite off. Credit goes to the actors who make believable the interference from the old man and the ultimate showdown telegraphed from the start.

Nevell nicely delivers the transformation he must undergo to survive the choices he has made and those to come. Mirto is adept at suffering, and Foxworth is suitably arrogant, stuffy, and reflective. It is Abatemarco, though, who has the choice role. He embodies the ailing dealer with a lifetime of bargaining skills and philosophy, providing the perspective to see where the characters are heading. He tries to salvage what is unsalvageable, just like the furniture he is bidding on. His merchant's portrayal is wonderfully eccentric and captures the flavor of old New York with every syllable. There is subtle humor in Miller's script.

Yuri Okahana's overflowing set is a marvel of vintage furniture and the detrius of a lifetime that neither brother has any interest in. A harp stands as a testament to the past and illuminates some family history. A gramophone plays music from the past, evocatively enhanced by Dave Mickey's sound design. Costumes by Kim DeShazo, mentioned notably in the play, are effective.

Miller writes that since this was written in 1967, the war was having a collective effect on everyone, particularly intellectuals who mourned the agony of war. Also absurdist plays were coming into fashion, and he created this thought piece to address both influences on him and the society in general. It is easy to come away with things to ponder in any Miller play, so examining this seldom-produced one is a worthwhile addition to ICT's season.

 

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE PRICE BY BEN MILES

 

Written in the late 1960s by Arthur Miller, one of America’s greatest dramatist, The Price premiered on Broadway in the winter of 1968 at the Morosco Theatre. Since then the play has had four Broadway revivals and has been honored with accolades and awards including two Tony wins.

Now this story of sibling rivalry, family obligations, jealousy, envy and the attempt to settle scores and heal scars from long ago has come to Long Beach’s International City Theatre. Directed with hoary elegance by John Henry Davis, with a stunningly evocative scenic design by Yuri Okahana; credible costuming by Kim DeShazo; indispensable property designs by Patty and Gordon Briles; and with appropriate sound and lighting designs by Dave Mickey and Dan Weingarten, respectively — this ICT production of The Price  is brought to life by a four member cast, which includes David Nevell as Victor Franz; Eylse Mirto as Esther Franz; Bo Foxworth as Walter Franz; and Tony Abatemarco as Gregory Solomon — all of whom carve meticulous portrayals of Miller’s complex characters.

Victor is a New York City police sergeant who dropped out of college and sacrificed his ambition to be a science professional in order to care for his ailing, aged father who was financially devastated due to the Great Depression some four decades earlier. Meanwhile, Walter, Victor’s brother went on to complete medical school and became a successful physician. Victor, along with his wife Esther, has returned to the home of the deceased father to have the estate — all of which is stored in an attic space, and includes mostly mundane items such as couches, tables, chairs, etc. — appraised and purchased.

Victor has enlisted a 90 year-old furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, to do the assessment and, hopefully,  make the purchase. After making several attempts to contact Walter by phone, Victor proceeds with the appraisal process, until Walter does arrive and disrupts the procedures. Each of the four characters have their own motivations and agenda, making the dramatic conflict complex and profound.

This family drama has the power of such primal tragedies as Sophocles’s Oedipus; after all, it was Arthur Miller who coined the term Tragedy of the Common Man in his 1949 essay of the same title. The Price explores the cost of family obligations, deceit, the value of forgiveness and the tragedy of misguided sacrifice.