The Price is a slow-burn, a meticulous unwrapping of truth and consequences that erupts when past and present collide. The result is a magnificent look into family—the drama, the dynamics, and the dysfunction—well-worth the wait through an almost leisurely first act.
A traditional drama with a straightforward set-up (one set/location/place, two Acts, four actors) written by the American giant, Arthur Miller, The Price shows it is still worth the Tony nominations it received in 1968.
A wealthy family —chauffeurs, fencing lessons, furs—before the Great Depression, the Franz’s lost everything in the Wall Street crash of 1929, forcing them into an attic apartment of a Brooklyn brownstone owned by a couple of uncles. At the heart of the family is Walter (Sean Haberle) and his younger brother, Victor (Charlie Kevin).
Their mother died shortly after the crash, leaving their father spiraling further into misery. Walter, seemingly, just walked away while Victor sacrificed his own dreams to care for the ailing man. He forwent college and joined the police force while Walter became a renowned doctor.
Twenty-eight years later, after sixteen years of silence between the brothers, Victor calls Walter. Their father is dead, and Victor has pre-arranged the sale of the family furniture—which he hopes fetches a good price—intending to split the money with his estranged sibling because it’s the right thing to do.
But, for Victor’s wife Esther (Valerie Leonard), the money—all of it—could give her the life of which she’s always dreamed and allow Victor to retire, freeing him to pursue the science he once so loved. Before the crash. Before his father’s decline. Before he ran out of money to pay for college. Before joining the force for fast income.
Enter Gregory Solomon (Conrad Feininger), an aging furniture dealer with a liquid-quick wit and keen observation of furniture and family alike. At nearly 90 years old, the Russian-Jewish immigrant has seen it all: WWI, the Depression, WWII, four wives, and his own daughter’s suicide. He wryly observes that if something doesn’t break, there are no more possibilities and that “the average family loves each other like crazy until the parents die…because even in the best families, you wouldn’t believe the shenanigans.”
After some hefty banter—infused with some great chuckles as Gregory Solomon defines his work— be offers Victor a price he doesn’t refuse, only to have Walter walk in at the last moment, shaking-up the whole agreement and forcing a dance down a memory lane full of haunting decisions and overlooked realities.
Miller’s script is sublime, its dialogue stings. At its cornerstone, economic uncertainty is a constant and families unravel—more often than not—willfully.
The play is timeless, too. We may bang away on computers today, but we are war weary and reluctant to take financial risks (be it through stocks or large purchases like a house). For better or worse, the Millennials may resemble the Silent Generation to which Walter and Victor belong.
No money and a war. Both play on their psyche, driving them down paths they may not otherwise have taken.
Director Michael Bloom has devised The Price as an immersive theatre-in-the-round experience. The audience sits in the Franz’s junky living room, surrounded by old, yet quality goods; they hang above, flank the aisles, and rest behind the rows. It’s a consignment store brimming with the pieces over which Solomon and Victor haggle, with an elegant, full-size harp as its crown jewel.
Charlie Kevin’s Victor is a genuine good guy. A bit sad and prone to willingly forget key moments from his past, which enables him to rest assured that he took life’s moral high road and justifiably villainize his brother. Kevin holds the stage with Victor’s put-upon, aw-shucks cop who’s suspicious of anything too good to be true, including his brother’s sudden appearance to broker an amends and help raise the price of the furniture sale. Surely, he guesses, there’s also a price for Walter’s sudden goodwill.
Kevin also has the hard task of laying the foundation for Act II (the explosive sibling showdown).
Walter, only a name in Act I until the final minute, owns Act II (though I’d be hard-pressed to say everyone else are merely a supporting players). Sean Haberle is magnetic; he’s overeager and almost too smiley. Nearly manic in his conversation. You get the impression Walter is a man on the edge, nervous about what will unfold between he and his brother.
Feininger, as Gregory Solomon, expertly helps pull the strings entangling Walter, Victor, and Esther in Act II’s decaying family reunion. Feininger’s Solomon seems like a man who knows how to incite a riot and then slip off in the shadows, evading any responsibility. With a twinkle in his eye, he’s wily yet likeable.
May 13 – June 21
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $50 – $65
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets or call 301.924.3400
Leonard’s Esther, despite possibly being a recovering alcoholic and bipolar, is a sympathetic woman. She signed up for a temporary situation that became permanent all because, as she learns, Victor can’t admit the truth about how he ended up in the life of a beat cop financially supporting the broken man that was his father.
Because, as Walter reminds him, “There was no love in this house. There was no loyalty.”
But, truth doesn’t unfurl like a neatly folded flag, so Walter and Victor talk and scream and argue and seethe through a winding reel of memories to understand how each has framed reality. It’s emotional, sometimes volatile volleys between Victor, Walter, and Esther with brief interludes by Solomon. The revelations about and rehashing of the past is an unavailing attempt at reconciliation for Walter and, for Victor, not a stunning free fall from the moral high-ground, but a stroke-by-stroke painting of how he became regarded as the family failure despite the moral compass of love and loyalty he used in life.
No matter, we buy the future with present choices. Something Victor conveniently forgot and Walter embraced too late.
The Price stands on its wonderfully nuanced script, expertly brought to life by a quartet of talented actors with remarkable chemistry. It may lack flash, but it will keep you intrigued and fully enthralled with the brothers Franz and the divergent paths the Depression nudge them toward.
The Price by Arthur Miller . Directed by Michael Bloom . Featuring Conrad Feininger, Sean Haberle, Charlie Kevin, and Valerie Leonard . Scenic Design: James Fouchard . Costume Design: Kelsey Hunt . Lighting Design: Nancy Schertler . Sound Design: Adam W. Johnson . Dialect Coach: Lynn Watson . Production Stage Manager: Keri Schultz . Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.