Arthur Miller is best known for his two American classics: Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. American high schoolers still know him for his third significant work, The Crucible.
Although The Price, now playing at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle, might not be among his most significant works, its penetrating examination of the choices families make, or do not make, remains as vital today as it was when it first opened in 1968.
Starring Hal Linden as the near-nonagenarian furniture appraiser Gregory Solomon, Arena’s production of The Price is built for 2017.
Director Seema Sueko, Arena’s deputy artistic director, has pulled together a multiethnic supporting cast that includes local actors Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Victor Franz and Rafael Untalan as his brother Walter. Pearl Sun plays Victor’s wife Esther.
This family couldn’t look more American; it also couldn’t look more New York. This family, with the always-feisty Solomon never missing an opportunity to finalize a deal, gives this The Price its dynamism.
Set on the attic floor of a Manhattan brownstone in October 1968 (that’s the year of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy), The Price features Victor Franz, a 26-year veteran of the NYPD.
Ebrahimzadeh’s Victor might not have the edge of a police officer who has been on the beat for half his life, but he more than makes up for it with his stoically repressed delivery.
You see, Victor has brought Linden’s Solomon to the brownstone’s attic to sell his family’s inheritance, a houseful of furniture, knickknacks, classic clothes, and a harp dating back to the glorious roaring 20s.
Linden’s Solomon is wily and disarming, obviously capable of finagling even the sharpest of wheeler-dealers. The problem is is that Ebrahimzadeh’s Victor wants this purging of the family’s history to be over as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for Victor, his wife Esther will have none of it. With their son on a full scholarship to MIT, Esther is ready to live. She’s tired on her husband’s cop salary, which has kept them trapped in a ratty apartment without any of the finer things in life.
Esther wants Victor to press the conniving Solomon for the best deal possible.
Then there is Victor’s older brother Walter, the doctor of the family. Untalan’s Walter is all neurotic detachment in a world of unending stress.
At the heart of this drama is the perennial absent father, Victor and Walter’s millionaire dad before the 1929 crash: the same dad spent his last years held up in the brownstone’s attic, forcing Victor to come to his rescue and, thus, abandon his own career in science.
The repressed guilt and sense of betrayal churn beneath the surface for most of the play.
Set Designer Wilson Chin has created a magnificent attic, a dark but majestic vision of an American success story.
Ivania Stack’s costumes keep social status uppermost on everyone’s consciousness.
Rounding out this strong design team are Allen Lee Hughes, Lighting Designer, and Roc Lee, Sound Designer.
The Price makes no direct reference to the epic social upheavals taking place in America during the 1960s, even if there is the occasional hint of revolution beating down the gates.
The play does, however, clearly establish a world marked by omnipresent financial value, with the appraiser Solomon ironically bemoaning the fact that very little happens in America that’s not about money.
Flash forward to 2017, and money is all that’s left of American culture.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30, with one 15-minute intermission