The Price by Arthur Miller – a review
Although not the best (or the best-known) of Miller’s plays, The Price is not without interest for a modern audience, dealing, as it does, with contemporary and timeless themes.
Act One opens with Victor Franz (Robert G Slade) strolling around the attic in which the material remains of his deceased parents are stored. Victor is a police sergeant, his estranged brother, Walter (Peter Banks), who will arrive later, is a successful surgeon.
Victor is moved by the objects around him, memories are awakened and he is visibly moved from time to time. But when his wife, Esther (Amanda Bellamy) arrives, he immediately moves into a more defensive mood. For Esther, a near alcoholic, there are no memories associated with the stuff in the attic, but there is a possibility of some cash. They have to know what they want before the dealer arrives, and they need to be strong enough to bargain with him, not just accept the first figure he mentions.
In this production Esther has an accent borrowed from Marge Simpson, which tends to detract a little from the content.
Gregory Solomon (Stuart Richman), the dealer, is nearly ninety years old. Of the four players he is the one who is least interested in the outcome. Old Gregory has seen it all before. Perhaps because of his age, he is also the one who brings a modicum of honesty to the table.
The two brothers have alternative memories of the past. Each of them believe that the other made conscious choices, while they themselves had no choice in the decisions which led to their estrangement. Each one believes that he paid a greater price than his brother.
Walter wants them to bury their differences, to somehow overlook everything that has conspired against them. But Victor is in deep denial. His interpretation of the past is intimately connected with his identity, and he cannot let it go.
This theme, the different versions of truth, is of course reminiscent of our modern international dilema, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the scurrying towards fundamental ideology in the world’s religious groups.
The ‘price‘ of the title is initially about how much the dealer will pay for this roomful of furniture and personal affects, and how much it is worth to each of the brothers. But beyond the obvious, the ‘price‘ is also what we are all prepared to pay for our ambitions or our desires throughout the course of our lives. Although the play is set in 1967 it is our own modernity which is on trial here, we see it on display in our politicians and our entertainment heroes and because they appear larger than life we sometimes feel that the problem is not a personal one. It is simply the importance of money or material wealth versus personal integrity. Something which affects every one of us. For whatever station you have arrived at in life, there has been a cost involved.
This production, at the York Theatre Royal, is by the Sheffield based Compass Theatre Company. It continues in York until the 5th May and then travels on to The Riverfront, Newport; The Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton; and the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield.