The Price, a drama by Arthur Miller that premiered on Broadway in 1968, was nominated for two Tony Awards, and revived four times, came to the Chapel Street Players stage Friday. Director Ray Barto (The Fantasticks) is at the helm of this latest CSP production that stars: Dan Tucker, Cindy Starcher, Bob Barto, and Curtis King.
Set in the attic apartment of a Manhattan brownstone, The Price, tells the story of Victor Franz (Tucker), a disenchanted NYC cop who gave up his dream of going to college following the Great Depression to care for his ailing father. Victor finally returns to his boyhood home years after his father’s demise and just ahead of the wrecking ball to finally sell his parents’ possessions. Victor’s equally disappointed wife, Esther (Starcher), his successful brother, Walter (King), and a shrewd furniture dealer, Mr. Solomon (Bob Barto), join Victor in the apartment and all have their own agendas. Victor must deal with all of them, haggling with the dealer over a fair price for the furniture and with Esther and Walter over the price of his sacrifice years earlier.
Ray Barto remains faithful to Miller’s script and so The Price has an insufferably long fuse, but when that fuse does finally burn down—in about the middle of the second act—the play detonates with the explosive moral inquisition for which Miller is known. The audience endures a fair amount of exposition and some repetition to understand what occurred in the past to make the present so appallingly miserable for these characters. Some of that could probably have been trimmed from the play while still preserving Miller’s ideas. The fraternal argument between Victor and Walter in Act II, for example, suffers from verbosity. The scene tends toward monotony, but Tucker and King are terrific together and their delivery honest.
The actors all labor to keep the energy level up in this dialogue heavy piece and although there are times you may long for the intermission or final curtain, the cast is first-rate and when these characters finally battle one another to settle their long festering feud, the play stops its slow burn and bursts into anguished social and moral significance.
Tucker adeptly portrays Victor as the stagnated victim, lamenting over lost opportunities and perceived injustices. Victor (who has not seen or spoken to his brother in 16 years) resents Walter for selfishly leaving home years before to pursue his dreams without so much as a backward glance, leaving Victor to hold things together and never realize his full potential. Furthermore, Victor is angry at Walter for refusing Victor’s request for financial assistance and ultimately dumbfounded by Walter’s claims that Victor had been blind all along to his father’s manipulations. Victor’s own anger is really what stymied him and he’s used that anger these years as an excuse to do nothing with his life.
Starcher is superb as Esther, the long-suffering, indignant wife, once passionate about poetry and who now drinks a little too much, pressuring Victor to get the best price he can for the furniture as she feels this is Victor’s due and his final chance to be somebody. Esther is embarrassed at being the wife of a cop. She loves her husband, but wants Victor to retire from the force and get a job that is more in keeping with his (her) aspirations. Tucker and Starcher play well off of each other and when Esther confronts Victor, it’s with the ferocity of a guard dog whose slumber has been disturbed by an intruder.
King delivers a fine performance as Walter, now a successful doctor who claims to have little interest in the proceeds from the sale of the “junk” cluttering the apartment. Walter has been successful, but success has come at a heavy cost. He is divorced and recovering from a mental breakdown. Walter dismisses the belief that there was anything about their dysfunctional family home worthy of loyalty. He adopts the mantle of white knight, never revealing whether his machinations are noble or Machiavellian.
Bob Barto is sublime as Solomon, the 89-year-old furniture dealer who has witnessed his share of meshugas over his many years dealing with families and their inheritances. Barto, who stepped into the role at the last minute due to the illness of the actor previously in the role, offers much-needed comic relief, peeling and eating his emergency ration of a hard-boiled egg to keep up his strength and spouting Russian-Yiddish, proving that Miller, for all of his moral earnestness, did actually have a sense of humor.
Ray Barto’s detailed set design works well for the small CSP stage and features a working harp on loan for this production from the Brandywine Harp Orchestra.
Arthur Miller wrote The Price in 1967 in response to two major events that, for him, overshadowed all other events from that decade—the surging Vietnam War and absurd avant-garde plays that were suddenly in vogue during that period. He wrote the play to “confront and confound” those events. Miller felt there was an “absence—not only in theater but everywhere—of any interest in what had surely given birth to Vietnam, namely, its roots in the past.” While the play doesn’t rank as high as Miller’s other works, it’s still a compelling family drama with trenchant observations on how we view money and success.
The name Arthur Miller raises certain expectations. Many will inevitably compare The Price to Miller’s enormously successful earlier works. The Price is none of those (nor does it pretend to be). If you go expecting to see Death of a Salesman, you may be disappointed, but go expecting a great evening in the theater and I think you’ll find that The Price is right.
The Price runs through Feb 17. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.