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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

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.

6 Responses to “The Price by Arthur Miller – a review”

  1. Chris Gallagher says:

    I’m audiodescribing this show for YTR and stumbled on your review in my research. I’m interested to know if you share my view of Esther’s importance to this play. As a character in her own right, I feel that she comes across as fairly thinly drawn; a near-alcoholic who is possibly sexually and certainly aspirationally frustrated. But I feel that she also plays a role similar to Lear’s fool. She sees and articulates a reality which neither Victor nor Walter can and as such is the catalyst for their confrontation and the realisation of the irreconcilable nature of their differences.

    jb says: I’ve only ever seen the play once. I haven’t read it. I think Victor is a cold fish and also quite conservative in his outlook. I don’t think he loves Esther and wonder if he ever did. She is constantly aware that she is shut out of his life. She is another victim of the brothers’ tragedy. Another woman would have left him by now.
    I’m not sure if she is the catalyst, nor whether she articulates a reality. She brings a different version of the truth to the stage. But is it any more valid than the truths of the other characters?

  2. jenny miller says:

    Saw the play in sheffield – it left me strangely frustrated. Not sure whether it’s the play itself, or whether it was the staging of it. The first half is certainly lengthy and somehow cumbersome (could have been cut a bit); and the actress who plays Esther got seriously on my nerves with her mannerisms/body language – always bordering on hysteria, difficult to watch & listen to.

    Funny, I didn’t see Victor as a “cold fish”, but probably as quite defensive and rigid. His love & affection for Esther seemed quite genuine – but then again, maybe it’s just the same ‘loyalty out of guilt’ he had towards his father.

    Theme is quite timeless – guilt, ‘Lebensluege’, personal choices, denial etc.; but there was something that felt ‘dated’ about this performance… hum, can’t put my finger on it.

    I got the impression that one of the core statements of this drama was that there are no victims, only people who live in denial of their own decisions and subsequently feel hard done by. Certainly a timeless topic…

    jb says: I think we expect so much more from Miller, and the play just doesn’t measure up.

  3. kt o'connor says:

    I was lucky enough to see a production of this play in London which featured the late W Mitchell. It struck me after seeing the play that it is far more likely to appeal to an Irish than an English audience. The tortured relationship between the siblings and the difficulty with which the truth about the past is hammered out between two opposing points of view clearly has a great deal of resonance on the island of Ireland.

    On a personal note, my own father had died not long before the aforementioned performance, so the inevitable stocktaking in such circumstances chimed with my own experience. In any case, this is a great work by a great playwright; I am sure that others will agree with me in the fullness of time.

  4. markgorman says:

    A very good preview for me and my wife who are going to see a revival tonight at The Lyceum Edinburgh. I will post a review on my blog in due course. Thanks for this. Very helpful.

    jb says: Let us know when your review is up, Mark. Would be good to hear your impressions.

  5. AD says:

    The Price has become my favorit Arther Miller play. Although I did have to watch it four times before I started to like it. It isn’t as depressing as some of the others and it has endless interpretations. Who is right in the play can change deprending on your mood as Miller doesn’t make it clear where reality is. In fact he goes so far as to make it unimportant. I’m not even convinced there are two brother. I sometimes think it is the play of an internal conflict and that Walter and Vic are the same person. Maybe Vic is just dreaming of the what if life that we all wonder about sometimes.

  6. Crista says:

    I appreciate the comment by “AD” about…
    “Who is right in the play can change deprending on your mood as Miller doesn’t make it clear where reality is. In fact he goes so far as to make it unimportant.” Really deep works for the theater (or life) are not meant to be judged in terms of simplistic characters or judgements of right or wrong …