The Price, now embarking on a national tour with Compass Theatre Company, sits centrally in Arthur Miller’s career as a playwright. Written in 1968, 13 years after A View from the Bridge, it acts as a sort of pendant to his early masterpieces of guilt, recollection and fractured families. More modest in scale, with a single room set and a cast of only four, and decidedly less tragic, The Price picks up themes and narrative motifs from the earlier plays and also from Miller’s own life.
Victor, a 50-year-old New York policeman, has come to the apartment where his father, having lost all in the Great Depression, lived dwarfed by the weighty remnants of his prosperity. Unlived in for 16 years, the apartment must be cleared as the building is to be demolished. Solomon, an 89-year-old semi-retired dealer, arrives to give Victor a price for the furniture and possessions.
A first act mainly devoted to two duologues (Victor with his wife, Esther, and with Solomon) spells out the basic situation. Victor, a budding scientist, gave up college to support his father while his brother Walter studied, became a doctor, prospered and ignored the brother whose life he had ruined. At the end of Act 1 Walter arrives and the second act is devoted to peeling the onion of relationships, motives and guilt.
The Price is wordier and (until a wonderful late section of constantly shifting perspectives) less intense than the earlier plays, but Miller’s clarity of insight is as exhilarating as ever. Compass responds with a similarly clear-eyed production. Neil Irish’s design, a clutter of fine furniture, dustsheets and trappings of wealth, is perfectly in key, with a precise sense of period.
Neil Sissons draws good performances from a quartet of newcomers to the company. Robert G. Slade is especially convincing as Victor, using his selfless decency as a barrier to admitting the truth about his motives. Peter Banks, large and comfortable as Walter, achieves a similar ambiguity in his pursuit of atonement. Stuart Richman savours the eccentricity and comedy in Solomon, a mixture of dignity and mischief, while Amanda Bellamy’s neurotic Esther is an effective counterpoint in failure to Victor.
The price in question, of course, is the price of the furniture, but also the price you pay for the life you choose - a conventional enough theme, but there is nothing glib about Miller’s treatment, as witness his comprehensive Act 2 demolition of the confessional panacea, “We must talk about it”.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield)