One of Arthur Miller's later plays examines another family in conflict.
A revival of Arthur Miller's 1967 The Price, in which a room full of furniture triggers a catharsis between a frustrated man, his wife, and his estranged brother, is now running at the Mark Taper Forum. Old wounds are pulled open and family trauma is finally able to mend in this stirring play, directed by Garry Hynes.
Victor Franz (Sam Robards), who gave up his dream of becoming a scientist so that he could support his ailing father and put his successful doctor brother through school, resents the choices that he feels he was forced to make. He and his brother, Walter (John Bedford Lloyd), haven't spoken in 16 years. Their father has long since passed away, and the apartment housing all their family's old furniture is about to be torn down. So they must come together to sell the past and finally confront their part in their family's deterioration. Mr. Solomon, an elderly Jewish furniture appraiser (Alan Mandell), brings sparks of levity to the play. He acts as the Greek chorus confronting these strangers with their secrets.
Miller's play deals with relatable issues such as the consequences of decisions and the blame that people place on others when their lives veer off course. Miller's protagonist has mentally painted a picture of his brother's life that is far from reality. Victor has lived on envy and anger toward Walter for so long that it is difficult to release the pain.
Hynes' production emphasizes the ordinariness of the situation while remaining involving. The audience can sense the characters' frustrations and terrors of remaining inert.
Robards bottles up his energies in Act 1, which initially feels like a limitation of the actor, but once he erupts in Act 2, it's clear that all his actions have been well calculated, and we have been witnesses to a man hitting a brick wall that he himself has built. Lloyd is enigmatic as the wealthy brother, never making it clear whether his machinations are altruistic or manipulative. Kate Burton, as Victor's harried wife, plays the role like Lady Macbeth, poking at her husband, forcing his hand to succeed so he won't embarrass her anymore. When her character warms up, however, it's hard for the audience to trust either the actress or the playwright's intentions.
Mandell steals the show as the insinuating and ingratiating Mr. Solomon. He uses his frailty (emphatically shrugging his shoulders) to hide his hustle. Mandell is a force of nature in the role. Funny and wise, he delightfully scams the brothers, giving them a "fair price" that always feels just a bit crooked.
The claustrophobic set by Matt Saunders, bombarded with old furnishings piled on top of each other like the Les Mis barricade, overwhelms the eye, representing how the past is crashing down on the characters. Terese Wadene's costumes are used to emphasize the class of each character: Victor in his police uniform, his wife, Esther, in a smart green suit to mask her shame toward her non-upwardly mobile lifestyle, Walter in an expensive suit and overcoat, and the old-timer Mr. Solomon in a disheveled three-piece suit and pocket watch chain.
With The Price, audiences witness a therapy session. But the combination of Miller's writing and Hynes' direction never lets the subject matter seem banal, reminding us that even the most common arguments are compelling enough to take center stage.