During the first act of Artists Repertory Theatre’s astute revival of The Price by Arthur Miller, the audience is led to believe that we may get a break from the usual Miller world of desire, disappointment, and dysfunction. During Act I we are lulled into a world where a Santa Claus of a Jewish antiques dealer named Gregory Solomon (Joseph Costa) charms us with witty, often hilarious dialog, as he dances policeman Victor Franz (Michael Elich) through Franz’s father’s pile of old furniture in an attic somewhere in New York City.
It’s obvious Solomon wants the pile that has sat in this attic since the old man died 16 years ago. But he can’t be seen to want it. Victor, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to get rid of said pile, but he doesn’t want to get screwed. His grasping wife Esther (Linda Alper) desperately wants the money. And since Victor’s brother Walter has not responded to his invitation to participate in the disposition of these questionable assets–they haven’t spoken in 16 years–there’s a good chance, Esther reasons, that to Victor will go the spoils.
Esther worries about money. Living on a policeman’s salary for 28 years has been tough, but she won’t work. She’s far more comfortable staying at home and drinking. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief when she leaves the stage so Victor and Solomon can commence haggling. The dialog between these men is so fresh and real, humorous, and even loving, that it’s mesmerizing. We love Solomon. We love Victor. And then, at the end of Act I, Victor’s brother the doctor, Walter Franz (Michael Mendelson) shows up unexpectedly.
In Act II, the person we know to be Victor Franz erodes before our eyes. Walter is everything Victor is not–driven, polished, and rich. Victor could have finished his college degree, according to Walter. Their father could have taken care of himself. According to Walter, Dad had a little pile of money–why Victor didn’t know about it is anybody’s guess. Victor didn’t have to dumpster dive to feed his father. And Walter, big man that he is, only gave $5 per month toward Dad’s upkeep because Dad really didn’t need the money.
Esther backs Walter’s every word. In fact, the two of them are ready not only to get more money out of the furniture, but to correct everything in Victor’s life that has been wrong with it to date. This is family ugliness at its finest. But it’s not without purpose. How much of how our lives turn out is attributable to circumstances and how much to one’s own personality traits? Where does weakness lie, and where the strength? Likewise failure and success and values. And who, ultimately, in this tangle of memories, is telling the truth? In this last major play by Arthur Miller we are fed a lot of questions and conundrums, but no pat answers.
Adriana Baer directs this rock solid production that runs through April 26 at Artists Rep. It entertains and informs. It works your brain. It is a slice of the American dilemma that is as fresh today as when it first was produced in 1968.
Photo: Owen Carey