Miller’s autobiographical soul searching brought to tragicomic life in a fine production
Arthur Miller pours the pain he and his family suffered during the deprivations of the Great Depression into this 1968 play. He tells the story of two brothers meeting for the first time in 15 years, confronting each other and their demons in the condemned New York apartment building where their late father – brought low by the Depression – lived out his days, cared for by Victor, his older son.
Victor and his wife Esther return to the long abandoned top floor apartment to sort out the sale of its contents. The price of the title is at first sight what Victor expects to haggle over with Gregory Solomon, the elderly antique dealer he has found to value the furniture and all the other detritus of the family home that crowd the room. In this allegorical tale it is perhaps above all the price you pay for the decisions you make. Victor has sacrificed hopes of a bright future by terminating his studies to join the police force, to earn enough to look after his father. Walter, the younger son, became a successful surgeon and distanced himself from his father and his problems, contributing little to his support. So there is plenty of room for regret, guilt and resentment in the crowded apartment.
Although Miller’s play is wordy, his story becomes gripping here, thanks to a quartet of beautifully thought out performances, sensitively directed by Jonathan Church. Before a word is spoken, designer Simon Higlett’s front room, where even the ceiling is crowded with flying furniture, provides an extraordinary battleground for the confrontations and revelations triggered by the sale.
Brendan Coyle’s Victor finds both the sympathetic and the infuriating in the stubborn steadfast son who finds he has sacrificed too much as he tries to come to terms with his past. Sara Stewart’s spiky, intelligent Esther suggests the deep affection of a long-standing relationship, built to withstand the irritations and disappointments of daily life and the grind of making ends meet. Although Adrian Lukis’s Walter appears to exude the confidence of success, he poignantly reveals what it has cost him in peace of mind, in relationships, and suggests a desperation for justification and forgiveness.
David Suchet finds all the comic gold Miller has lovingly fashioned in wily octogenarian Gregory Solomon and then some. As if pausing in his valuing to pull out and peel a boiled egg weren’t enough, he recites the Hamotzi (the blessing before eating) over his snack as he does so. The boiled egg is in Miller’s stage directions, the blessing is not. It’s an extraordinary comic creation, but as he weaves his way happily through the maze of old furniture, spinning his spiel to soften the offer of an absurdly low price and chatting about his flight from the old country and his long life, he too reveals the price he has paid in lost and broken relationships. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying account of this complex, though rewarding, play.
By Judi Herman
Photos by Nobby Clark
The Price runs until Saturday 27 April. 7.30pm, 2pm (Wed & Sat only). From £20. Wyndham’s Theatre, WC2H 0DA. www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk