Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’ weighs the cost of a decision

First slide

How much is old furniture worth? Arthur Miller’s play “The Price” is centered ostensibly upon that question. But the family drama surrounding the sale examines the price of family loyalty and the value of wealth and sacrifice.

 

The play begins on the attic floor of a Manhattan brownstone in the fall of 1968. Policeman Victor Franz, played by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, is casually looking through the possessions of his childhood home. Fine wooden benches are stacked on top of coffee tables crowded next to armoires, chests of drawers and other imposing pieces of furniture.  

His wife, Esther, played by Pearl Sun, arrives to the flat in a new teal suit, excited for their night at the theater. The furniture dealer is scheduled to arrive any minute, and she’s hopeful the deal will bring them some much-needed cash. 

The accumulated tables and chairs once belonged to Victor's father, who died 16 years ago. Victor dropped out of school and joined the police force to support his father, who was emotionally crippled and financially ruined after the Great Depression. On the other hand, his brother, Walter, barely supported his father while continuing medical school.  The two brothers have not seen each other since their father’s death. Though Esther hopes to keep the money from the furniture sale, Victor is determined to split the money evenly with his brother.  

Finally, the humorous old appraiser, named Gregory Solomon and played by Hal Linden, laboriously climbs up the attic’s stairs. Esther leaves to pick up dry cleaning, and the two men are left alone.  

linden

 

Hal Linden plays the lively Jewish furniture dealer in Arthur Miller’s “The Price.”  COURTESY

“I pick up the pieces,” explains Gregory to Victor — pieces of furniture and the pieces of the divorce or death that makes his services necessary. 

Instead of quickly putting a price on the furniture, as Victor hopes, Gregory launches into stories of his larger-than-life past, and learns something of Victor’s as well.  

It’s through the furniture that Miller introduces the complicated nature of worth. Every piece in the attic is well-made and in good condition. But he can’t sell it for much. It’s not what people are looking for, explains Gregory. 

“In the past, if a man was troubled, he’d go to church or start a revolution or something. Now, they go shopping,” he said. The more disposable it is, the more valuable. Gregory points to a solid dining room table. If a man’s sitting at that table, he knows he’s married and he’s got to stay married, said Gregory. 

As they settle on a price, Walter, played by Rafael Untalan, unexpectedly walks into the room. His presence forces Victor to rethink the price he accepted and the decisions he’s valued for the past 16 years.  

Though full of heavy dialogue, moments of levity, especially those provided by Gregory, keep from overwhelming the atmosphere of the thought-provoking play. Watch for harsh language. 

Learn more

“The Price” at Arena Stage in Washington runs through Nov. 12.  To learn more, go to arenastage.org.  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@ZoeyMaraistACH