A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
 
 
 
 
The Price

The Price enjoyed a splendid London revival with an outstanding cast interpreting a memorable work, its deep thought lightened by humor. As is true of so many of Miller’s plays, this family-based drama strikes an immediate chord in members of the audience as it asks universal questions about moral responsibility between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and brother.

Larry Lamb is impressive as the stalwart Manhattan policeman Victor, whom we meet first in the furniture-crowded attic room where his father sought refuge, destroyed overnight by the Depression when he fell from prosperity to poverty. Victor (whose name may be ironic) had to sacrifice his education and his career in science to support his father, while brother Walter left home to became a doctor. Although the brothers are estranged, Walter has been asked to attend the sale of the furniture to a dealer. Until his death, their father spent his days in the chair that now symbolizes him among the piled-up once fine furniture that conjures up the family’s past; a harp is reminiscent of their mother. As Victor’s wife Esther cautions him to bargain for the best price, he awaits the dealer, for the building is to be demolished.

Enter, brilliantly portrayed by Warren Mitchell, lively Jewish furniture dealer Solomon, 89 years old, having survived three depressions, four wives, numerous occupations (including that of an acrobat sharing the vaudeville bill with Gallagher and Sheehan), and the death by suicide of a loved daughter. When told how Victor’s father just gave up, he muses “some men don’t bounce.” Mr. Mitchell is a joy to watch, as octogenarian Solomon still has plenty of bounce; only time, he regrets, is slowing him down, as he attempts to rise from a chair or subsides at a crucial point in discussing payment. His unique vocabulary combines humor and wisdom, as he delivers twisted aphorisms, unasked-for advice, and wry comments that apply to the furniture as well as to the world at large. Looking at pieces too large for new apartments, except for in-demand armoires, he declares, “I’m trying to give you a modern viewpoint. Because the price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint.” The brothers, each still resentful of the other, have never changed, never acquired “a modern viewpoint.”

Victor’s viewpoint is that of the past, represented by the outdated furniture – he still bears a grudge against his rich and famous brother who deserted their father to pursue his own goal.. Walter shows up just as Victor is accepting the agreed-upon price from Solomon, after the dealer has demurred, philosophized, eaten his lunch, and offered Victor advice about his marriage. Now Walter defends his past actions, and our sympathies shift from Victor to him, as we learn that their father never revealed his hidden cash to the sacrificing Victor. According to Walter, the father realized that Victor wanted to make that sacrifice to avoid the “rat race” by taking a safe civil-service job: “We invent ourselves, Vic, to wipe out what we know.” Walter destroys his brother’s illusion that love characterized their family: it wasn’t love they aimed for, but success.

Des McAleer brings conviction and sympathy to the role of Walter. A sleek portrait of financial success in his cashmere coat, he exudes, Solomon shrewdly notes, the “power” that evoked pride from the father. Walter too has paid a price for his choice – his wife divorced him, his sons disappointed him, and he suffered a breakdown. Now he seeks reconciliation with Victor, whom he suspects enjoyed the righteous role of victim, of not having to face challenges that might mean failure, as his father had failed. .

Esther, Victor’s wife, loves him despite the price they paid for his choice – sharing his modest salary with the father, living in furnished rooms, scrimping and saving. She sums up their married life in four words: “We lived like mice.” Sian Thomas creates a wife at breaking-point, frustrated at Victor’s indecision, and grasping at the promise of a comfortable life in Walter’s offer of a position for Victor at his hospital Wary Victor believes the offer is motivated by guilt and refuses to give his brother the satisfaction of acting nobly.. After Walter walks out in anger, it is Esther who has the last words. In some of Miller’s best quiet poetry, she recalls the lost hopes of the past, regretting that even now Victor is unable to take just a small step toward reconciliation with his once-loved brother.