Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MAY 22, 2009
Brothers go mano a mano in Arthur Miller’s muscular 1968 classic, “The Price.” They don’t physically duke it out, but guts are spilled and family blood is drawn. And when it’s all over, reconciliation is unlikely.
Victor and Walter Franz haven’t seen each other in 16 years. They meet up again, in the Manhattan brownstone where they grew up, to sell off the family possessions. The play’s title refers to the price they’re negotiating for the goods, as well as the emotional cost of the life choices each has made. Walter walked away from the old homestead long ago, turning his back on his family, doggedly pursuing power and wealth. He became a successful surgeon and businessman. But he’s been emotionally dead for years: friendless, lonely, divorced . Victor, who’s been married for decades, put off a promising career in science to stay home and care for their nearly catatonic father, a formerly affluent bon vivant who was broken by the Great Depression. He lost everything he had, and Victor couldn’t bear to leave him alone. So he became a cop, and scrounged in trashcans for food, while wealthy Walter sent them a measly five dollars a month. Now 50, Victor is facing retirement from the force, and Walter is facing down his demons. Ugly truths emerge, and our sympathies shift as the battle rages.
Helplessly watching this wrenching filial confrontation is Victor’s long-suffering wife, who wanted so much more for her life, and is embarrassed by the path her husband has taken. In the midst of the fray, imposing his endless opinions and words of Solomonic wisdom, serving as judge, intermediary and wheezing, wheedling manipulator, is an octogenarian antiques dealer whom Victor has summoned to assess the family furnishings. Solomon provides the Borscht Belt humor, and also the voice of reason, though he’s something of a rascal as well.
At the Old Globe, the first act never quite takes hold. The pace is slow, and we don’t get a strong sense of Victor and Esther’s character, marriage or relationship. Solomon may make his comical entrance, but the drama doesn’t kick into gear until Walter makes his appearance in the act’s final moments. Act two is tense and gripping all the way. At the end, though, we, like the brothers, aren’t quite sure what to think, what should’ve been done or said. The altercation and revelations are thrilling at times, under the direction of Rick Seer . But it’s not a richly nuanced, wholly satisfying production. Dominic Chianese , familiar to “Sopranos” fans as Uncle Junior, is funny as Solomon. James Sutorius , who’s made several memorable visits to the Globe, captures the damaged superciliousness of well-to-do Walter. The other two are only intermittently convincing. But Arthur Miller, one of our greatest playwrights, always had a lot on his mind. And his ethical, familial arguments are timeless.
“The Price” runs through June 14 on the Old Globe’s temporary space at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER