Arthur Miller’s The Price, now playing at Olney Theatre Center, is brilliantly directed by Michael Bloom. The play, which opened in 1968 on Broadway, takes place in the late 1940s. Like Arthur Miller’s family who were financially decimated during the Depression, The Franz family – brothers Walter and Victor, who have been estranged for 16 years, watched as their parents also lost ‘their fortune’ during the Depression.
In The Price, Miller reflects on this part of his life after the death of his own father. And here both Franz brothers have to make hard decisions about their relationship. Can they reconcile? Can they come to an agreement about selling their parents’ belongings?
The mother, we are told, died about the time the money was lost, and the father never recovered financially or mentally from his losses. The older brother now is a surgeon, and the younger brother is a New York City policeman. They have not talked in 16 years. The cop is now ready to retire but has not made that decision as he is approaching 50. His wife Esther wants him very much to make this step. She is unhappy in her life and drinks.
The building that houses the many belongings of the Franz family is being torn down. The attic apartment where they had to live after the loss their money will be no more, and the items must be sold or tossed. Vic, the younger son, has called Gregory Solomon, an appraiser and reseller of old furniture, to come and give him a price for these hundreds of items. Solomon is an old man and really no longer in business. He sees this opportunity for a resurgence of his career and his own life. After coming to a deal with Vic, the older brother, Walter, shows up and things begin to unravel, not only the deal but emotions, dreams, and whatever is left of the brothers’ relationship.
James Fouchard’s set is covered with old sheets to protect the old furniture and memories of the past. These pieces of the past actually surrounds the audience. As the play unfolds sheets are removed, items come out of the closet, and outer clothing comes off. This mirrors for us what is happening on stage as we get to see into the hearts and minds of the four characters. The set is perfectly eerie as we try to envision the sadness and dishonesty that lived here. Interestingly, the only mirror that we see is cracked. An old harp that belonged to the matriarch of the family also has a structural crack. Lighting Designer Nancy Schertler replicates the lighting of an old New York attic apartment, pairing well with the extensive and intricate set.
The exceptional cast portrays these characters so well that by the end we feel we not only know them, but how much they remind us of people in our own lives.
Charlie Kevin portrays Victor Franz. If you are from New York, you will note that his accent sounds just like a New York City policeman. His expressions, when he is just listening, tell us how he feels about who he is speaking about and to. And we see these powerful expressions during an explosive scene with his brother.
Valerie Leonard plays Esther Franz, the frustrated and unhappy wife of Victor, and is riveting as the supportive wife who sacrificed for her husband and child, and now wants to reap some of life’s rewards. She tries so desperately to please her brother-in-law and conveys her lack of patience with her husband. Yet, we understand her love for Victor and the strength of their marriage.
Sean Haberle is Walter Franz, the old brother and physician. He also exposes himself in order to cleanse his soul and Haberle has just the right air of indignation, arrogance, and Walter’s domineering personality. Even at his most vulnerable time when he exposes his dirty laundry, we feel he is manipulating the situation to make himself look and feel superior.
The most symbolic character, (and maybe because he is an enigma), and the most fascinating, is Solomon, the appraiser, in a tour de force performance by Conrad Feininger. Is the character just judging the value of the furniture and knick knacks, or is he judging the value of the other characters’ lives? Solomon also has most of the comic relief of this very intense drama. Conrad Feininger portrays this ancient wheeler dealer with a dash of mystery, and great comic timing.
Is Solomon really the strongest person in the play ,or does he have his own skeletons in the closet like the others? Leaving us with these questions has us thinking about the meaning of the play after the lights go out.
Through Michael Bloom’s excellent direction, we are given time to absorb and follow the action. And he still leaves us with unanswered questions, not just about the Franz family, but about the paths of our own lives and the prices we have to pay for our decisions. He expertly guides the actors in this theater in-the-round.
Olney Theatre Center’s exceptional production of this Arthur Miller classic is well worth ‘the price’ of admission.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
The Price plays through June 21, 2015 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center — 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets, call (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.