Directed by Michael Menedian
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
Family drama of loyalty, sibling rivalry, and commitment still resonant today
Raven Theatre always seems to mount classic playwrights like Arthur Miller with deeply human performances faithful to the playwright’s intent. The 1969 family drama, The Price, relatively unheralded gem, is about the shattered American dream and the effects of economic woes on family dynamics. Director Michael Menendian has mounted a deeply emotional work that hooks us and keeps unraveling the story of two brother’s estrangement as their former home’s furnishings are to be liquidated before the home is destroyed.
Victor (Chuck Spencer) is a 28 year veteran policeman charged with selling his deceased parents furniture. His wife Ester (JoAnn Montemurro) loves Victor but she wants him to retire from the police and start making enough money for them to enjoy the good life. Set in 1969 in the attic of their Manhattan home (amazing set design by Amanda Rozmiarek), Victor encounters the used furniture appraiser, Gregory Solomon (Leonard Kraft), an 89 year old Russian Jew, veteran of the British navy and six countries. The two debate the importance and viability of the antique furnishings in the attic. Solomon is a true delight giving perspective, depth to the value of a family’s furnishings and personal integrity.
We learn that Victor abandoned his studies in science to support his father who lost his massive wealth in the Market Crash of 1929. Victor took up police work as a temporary job but now has 28 years vested. His brother, Walter (Jon Steinhagen) left the family to fulfill his dream to be a surgeon. He made a fortune but lost his wife and the companionship of his brother Victor. After 16 years, Walter, now a changed man, arrives to attempt to rekindle a relationship with Victor. The play moves through all the buried resentments from Victor’s perspective first, then Walter’s. We also see how Esther’s angst strains her marriage.
The title, The Price, has a dual meaning — on the surface the price is the amount haggled over and agreed upon for the apartment’s furnishings ($1,100). The price is also a fact of life. Whatever you do, whatever trade-offs you make in life, there is always a “price” that you’ll pay. Victor sacrificed a promising career in science to support his father. Walter, realizing that the father is more selfish than needy, went his own way and later, wanting his brother to speak to the illusion of the father’s neediness, refused Victor’s plea for a modest loan of $500– causing the final rift in an already fragile relationship.
The roads taken by each brother caused bitter resentment and their attempt at reconciliation marvelously structured by Miller as he gives powerful arguments for each character’s point of view. Is Victor a martyr or did he knowingly play it safe with his life choices? Is Walter sincere in his attempt to rekindle a relationship with Victor? Is it too late for Victor to forgive Walter? Is the price too high, too painful and too late?
For Solomon, the antiques are his final chance to be a player in the antique game. He is rejuvenated for a small price. Victor just wants to be rid of all the symbols of an unhappy past. Miller’s play is a wonderful look at estrangement and the pain of rekindling the past. We do pay ‘the price’ for each life choice we make. Miller skillfully balances any sympathy we might have equally between Victor and Walter. But Solomon emerges as getting the best price for his desires.
The Price features terrific acting by the entire cast with Chuck Spencer playing Victor with much empathy, we cheer for him. Jon Steinhagen presents Walter as both commandingly intimidating and sincerely remorseful; JoAnn Montemurro shows Ester’s frustration toward her middle aged plight. This cast delivers Arthur Miller’s powerful work with intelligence and respect and loads of truth. The two points of view from each brother deftly deals with the conflict of self-preservation versus familial responsibility. We all know families facing that dilemma. The subtle power of this production is in the layers of truth that each faces. This work resonates powerfully. Kudos to Raven Theatre for presenting such a gem.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2012
For more info checkout The Price page at theatreinchicago.com
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, Call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through April 14, 2012