I remember how pleased a well-known actor and I were when we saw a pre-opening performance of Arthur Miller's The Price on Broadway 42 years ago. Miller's plays had been disappointing for awhile, and this was undeniably a moving, thought-provoking, rewarding drama. And funny! Moments in Miller's earlier plays had hinted at the comic talent in his remarkable ear for realistic dialogue and behavior, but his 89 year-old Jewish antiques dealer, Gregory Solomon, delighted audiences with wise, insightful, offbeat, and altogether hilarious comments. They amounted to superb comedy routines. And Solomon became a legendary comic character.
I've been lucky to see nothing but first-rate casts in several succeeding versions of this wonderful play, this revival included. Solomon continues to steal act I, but the second act reveals depths and complexities in the two brothers and the wife that enrich the overall drama and whether we like the current approach or not leave us involved and impressed.
The plot is relatively simple: Victor, a retiring policeman and his wife Esther await a used-furniture dealer to make them an offer for an attic full of big, once-impressive furniture from the family's large Manhattan house lost in the stock-market crash 35 years before. Victor's brother Walter, a successful surgeon, hasn't seen his brother in decades but surprisingly shows up to try to reconcile their varying differences. They all then struggle over the price of their failed aspirations, their treatment of their father who was destroyed by the loss of his business, their possibilities of reconciliation, and, of course, of the huge trove of furnishings which we see dominating the scene all around them. After revelations and reversals that do not entirely alter their situations, they all arrive, sadly, at a not-truly-satisfying price.
The physical production is generally very fine. Scott Bradley's piled-up room is convincing and impressive, if hardly Boris Aronson's dazzling original creation (which might be unaffordable these days). Thomas C. Hase lights the play splendidly with very subtle changes to emphasize time and mood. Laurie Churba Kohn's costumes seem appropriate, except that I found the supposedly wealthy and self-indulgent Walter rather rumpled looking, and his camel's hair coat, described as an expensive, remarkable gift, a little short and ill-fitting.
What quibbles I have about this production are probably the result of Timothy Bond's generally secure and sensitive direction. In Act 1, I find Carmen Roman too uncomplicated as Esther, seemingly merely unsatisfied and grasping, rather than torn between real lingering affection for and disappointment with her husband. She makes her character grow, however, in the second act. Kenneth Tigar is somehow occasionally over the top as Solomon without so much tickling the audience and winning their affection as other Solomons have, but he plays effectively and is oddly powerful in the final act. Richard McWilliams begins as a modest and understated Victor, though always involving, and grows into a heartbreakingly anguished man, too decent to be heartened by being vindicated. And Tony DeBruno is entirely adept at Walter's many twists and turns to reach out generously but also hold on to his position as winner. Once again, I thought the play ended by making the cheering audience feel that this is topnotch drama by a great playwright.