One of Arthur Miller's most revered plays is The Price, now receiving an exemplary production at Arena Stage. It is the story of Victor Franz, a middle-aged New York City policeman, tired of his 28 years on the job. It is 1968 and Victor comes home to the Manhattan brownstone where he and his father used to live to sell his father's estate and close up the house so it can be torn down.
As in other Miller plays, the Great Depression serves as a cultural backdrop in The Price. The crash ruined Victor's father and was the reason Victor went to work to support him rather than going to college. Victor's brother, Walter, on the other hand, went to college and medical school, eventually living a life of comfort and prestige.
While Victor has ideas about how he wants to handle his father's belongings, Victor's wife, Esther, and Mr. Solomon, a savvy furniture dealer who comes to give an estimate for the estate, offer alternative views on how Victor should deal with the cascades of heavy, old-fashioned tables, chairs, and lamps piled into every corner of the attic floor of the brownstone. Just as Mr. Solomon and Victor are about to strike a deal, Walter arrives and throws a wrench into Victor's plan. The two brothers haven't seen each other since the death of their father 16 years before. As the two talk about self-sacrifice and duty, it becomes clear that they both had very different images of their father. When Walter tells Victor that after the Depression their father wasn't totally broke, this new information leaves Victor speechless. The brothers end up arguing and their already tenuous relationship fractures.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh plays Victor with conviction, expressing just the right amount of tension until the last burst of fireworks, when he lets his temper flare completely. He alternates between those tense moments with his brother and extremely tender ones with his wife, who needs a lot of pampering. Pearl Sun plays the thankless role of Esther, a woman who is attracted to pretty clothes and cocktails. Rafael Untalan is strong as Walter, playing him as a self-centered man, but one who is able tell Victor the unfortunate truth about their father without taking delight in Walter's pain.
The part with the most laughs in the play is also the part with the most heart in the Arena production. Hal Linden is superb as the upbeat and friendly 89-year-old furniture dealer Mr. Solomon, who comes huffing and puffing up the stairs to the attic and doesn't leave until everyone else is gone. Linden affects a Russian-Jewish accent that fits the role.
Seema Sueko directs this production at a modest pace, so that the arguments between the brothers don't get lost in a firestorm of words. Wilson Chin's set fills the attic space with piles of old furniture. Above the stage hangs a huge slanted, dirty glass skylight.
Costume designer Ivania Stack creates a beautiful suit for Esther, an old three-piece suit for Solomon, and an expensive camel hair coat for Walter. Sound designer Roc Lee creates the sound of roosting pigeons in the brownstone before the play begins, establishing a sense of an abandoned building.
Miller liked to draw parallels in his characters to point out moral wins and losses. In this drama, he drew a straight line between a self-sacrificing brother and a selfish one, only to pull the rug out from under one of them. This production underlines what a sound play The Price still is as it asks the observer: What price do you pay when you live your life as you want to? And assuming that there is such a thing as a "life you should live," what price do you pay for living it ?
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