Melbourne Civic Theatre's "The Price"
"The Price" Paid for Life's Choices
Honoring the centennial of Arthur Miller's birth, theaters throughout the country have been staging revivals of the works of one of America's playwright giants. The Melbourne Civic Theatre has joined the parade with a powerful staging of "The Price" that runs through June 26. One of Miller’s last works for the stage, the two-act chamber drama tells the story of long estranged brothers-- Victor, a disheartened New York police sergeant, and Walter, a prosperous surgeon whose personal life is in shambles.
After a 16 year gap the brothers finally reunite to negotiate a price for their deceased father's possessions because the building is to be demolished. Set in an old brownstone attic crammed with furniture and heirlooms, the memories evoked stir up anguish, resentment and jealousies. Blistering accusations fly.
Miller crafted iconic plays such as "All My Sons," "A View from the Bridge," "The Crucible" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Death of a Salesman." Originally premiered at the Moroso Theater in February 1968, The Price was nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Scenic Design.
MCT artistic director Peg Girard's production delivers a fresh and compelling look. Though ostensibly about the amount of money a furniture dealer will pay, the play more importantly speaks to the price is paid for decisions made as we travel through life.
"It's one of my favorite Miller plays," Girard says. "There is something to be said for looking back at our past with both fierceness and forgiveness. The play is very personal to me as my parents and a stepfather passed away. My mother asked me to be the surrogate. I understand and relate to those experiences you have with siblings. That helped me immensely, I'm very glad I waited to do the play."
Victor (Steven Wolf) strolls onto stage in his New York police uniform and investigates objects of his youth: Depression-era furniture, a grand cracked harp and an old Vitrola phonograph. Then his long- suffering wife Esther (Rita Moreno) arrives. Her life's frustration spills over into a sharp rebuke of their disappointments, primarily lack of money and status. We learn later that Victor sacrificed a promising career in science to walk the beat and pay the bills of his father who was ruined by the 1929 crash.
New life is breathed into Act One when Yiddish-accented furniture appraiser Gregory Solomon (Steve Budkiewicz) finally shows up. At age 89, Solomon has seen it all before. Creaky and methodical, he cautions Victor that "with used furniture you cannot be emotional, people don't want these anymore."
With a twinkle in his eye Solomon tries to win Victor over, rattling off endless stories about his checkered past. Suspicious and impatient, Victor keeps hammering him to spit out the price. While Solomon provides a necessary dose of comic relief, he also serves as something of a moral compass to the Franz family's turbulent past.
"Miller used Solomon as a bit of a catalyst between the two brothers,"" Girard explains. "He does bring good cheer and humor, though it's not slap-happy funny. He has a lifetime of wisdom. He's never stopped being who he is. He asks, 'why should I just because of my age.'"
As Act Two begins Walter wants to put aside the past and move forward in friendship, but Victor doesn't buy it. Anxious and mercurial, Walter haggles with Solomon to obtain a higher price for Victor and Esther, a tactic that soon unearths a dark family secret. Decades ago Victor had inquired about a $500 loan from his brother so he could continue his education. Quite wealthy by then, Walter denied his request after learning their father had squirreled away $4,000. Caretaker Victor is shaken. Raw emotion is laid bare. Girard's cast is first-rate. Forged by a quartet of talented actors with impressive chemistry, this is a sturdy and profound theatrical experience of one of Miller's under recognized works.