If you’re an Arthur Miller devotee, you’ll probably have mixed feelings about The Price. But if you’ve yet to see Death of a Salesman or The Crucible or All My Sons or any of Miller’s earlier, better-known works, what some may see as second-tier Arthur Miller will seem to you like first-tier theatre. And in this case–due in no small part to director Steven Carpenter and the talented cast involved in The Price’s current run at the Bay Theatre in Annapolis—you may be right.
The story takes place in Manhattan in 1968, in the attic of an aged brownstone filled with the furniture of a dead man. The two sons of the furniture’s owner are Victor Franz, a police sergeant (Peter Wray) and Walter Franz, a doctor (Nigel Reed), and have been estranged for over sixteen years. Victor is the brother that stayed home to take care of their dying father, sacrificing his dreams of being a scientist and toiling away in the police force. Meanwhile, Walter skipped town and became a wealthy and prominent physician and the family golden boy, despite his only contribution being a meager pittance of five dollars a month.
Now that their father has died and the brownstone is set to be bulldozed, a chance encounter happens between the two brothers as Victor is having the furniture priced by Gregory Solomon (Conrad Feininger), the antique dealer of antique dealers. To Solomon, used furniture is all about perspective, and most of the play’s comedy happens as he explains his craft to Victor. Also involved in the haggling process is Victor’s wife, Esther (Kathleen Ruttum), who mostly wants to make sure Victor doesn’t get gypped.
The play’s best moments are probably due to the dynamic between Feininger and Wray. Feininger plays the wiley Russian furniture dealer with expertise, and Wray’s portrayal of the hard on his luck good cop gains momentum from their first interaction. The intimate setting of the play benefits from the Bay Theatre’s size. In a larger theatre or with a bird’s eye perspective, you would lose the feeling that you were sitting on a nearby couch and witnessing the family quarrels firsthand.
With the knowledge that Miller wrote plays that gave a moral diagnosis of the state of the nation at the time, it’s hard not to watch The Price as a modern-day audience and find it compelling simply because of what it foreshadowed. Victor and Walter are both members of the “Silent Generation”–the children of the Great Depression–much like Arthur Miller himself. Their cohort was too young to fight in World War II, experienced poverty and loss at an early age, and grew up in a time of renewed prosperity, and as the play illustrates, a new morality.
Closes May 12, 2013
Bay Theatre Company
275 West St
Tickets: $35 – $55
Thursdays thru Sundays
Every single discussion in The Price, either implicitly or explicitly, comes down to cost. Victor is a man who lived his life doing what was considered the right thing, only to find that might have been the costliest decision of all. Victor and his wife lived their lives not prioritizing money, and in their middle age in a new upwardly mobile society, are paying for it.
Walter is a character who might have been new back then but is all too familiar now; newly divorced, smart about money and not much else, and unapologetic about it. The Price shows the beginning of a new moral code, where honor and integrity are bargaining chips for opportunity and prosperity, and the good guy and the hero are two different people.
The Price by Arthur Miller . Directed by Steven Carpenter . Featuring Conrad Feininger, Peter Wray, Nigel Reed and Kathleen Ruttum . Produced by Bay Theatre . Reviewed by Amrita Khalid.