April 29, 2010

The Price

Filed under: 2010,Archive

April 29, 2010
Adelaide Theatre

The Price
By Arthur Miller
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
April 28. Tickets  $ 29 – 59. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until May 16.

Murray Bramwell

In an interview, for BBC television in 1987, Arthur Miller said that his plays were about the birds coming home to roost. They might think they are flying around free, he explained, but, sooner or later, one by one they would land back where they started. This, mordantly summarized, is Miller’s sense of his characters’ tragic destiny. It is ultimately a pessimistic view, but it is also the framework in which lives are lived and personal principles are upheld – or reneged upon.

This certainly applies to The Price, his excellent, but relatively unknown play from 1968, about two brothers, Victor and Walter Franz, who become estranged while still in their late teens. Their father, a New York tycoon, has lost his fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and, broken by the experience, he persuades one son to abandon his own ambitions in order to support him through his old age, while the other repudiates him and follows a lucrative career as a surgeon.

Sixteen years after the father’s death, the brothers meet again in the family house where an attic full of dusty furniture is being appraised by the well-named Gregory Solomon, an elderly Jewish dealer whose wisdom is equalled by his worldliness. I pick up the pieces, he comments drily, and Miller’s play powerfully explores the recriminations and regrets of the contrasting characters. It is impossible to know what is important, says Victor, looking back over his life choices, as his wife Esther now yearns for more money and his brother Walter describes the liberation of temporarily losing his.

In this accomplished production for State Theatre, Adam Cook has found a timely play with a strong theme and an engrossing second act. Amidst the artful clutter of  Ailsa Paterson’s design, with its piles of bric-a-brac and jagged floor boards -suggesting that the edge of the attic is also the edge of the world – the actors strut and fret their two hours with memorable precision.

Navigating Miller’s salty Lower East Side dialect, Michael Habib and Carmel Johnson vividly capture Victor and Esther’s struggle between personal dignity and fiscal practicality. Pip Miller is a well-judged foil as the insouciant – and chastened – Walter, and Dennis Olsen’s sprightly Solomon has a comic warmth to match the existential pragmatism.

Cook has staged a finely balanced rendering of Arthur Miller’s finely balanced and prescient argument. There are no glib or sentimental conclusions here, and plenty of current parallels to the GFC. The Price is a story well worth the telling.

“Birds home to roost in a story worth telling” The Australian, April 30, 2010. p.15

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