Arthur Miller's 1968 play is not one of his best-known, but I have always considered it one of his finest, and this new revival shows off its power almost as beautifully as you could possibly want.
As in his best plays, a very solid and ordinary realistic situation is the occasion for deep and moving human drama. Two estranged 50ish brothers, a weary cop and a successful surgeon, are brought together by the task of selling off the stored furniture of their dead father, a businessman who lost his riches and his spirit in the 1930s Depression.
Inevitably a lifetime of resentments come to the fore, as the cop blames his brother for selfishly achieving success while he stayed home to care for dad. But of course it is not as simple as that, and as layer after layer of illusion is stripped away, Miller reveals a story, not of a wasted life but of a noble one.
Providing both comic relief and philosophical commentary is a third character (There's also the cop's wife), the 89-year-old very Jewish antique dealer called in to buy the furniture.
Between sly wheedling to prepare for his low bid and just being a loveable old rogue - and part of the fun is that you can't always tell which is which - he always steals the first half of the play. And casting a real star of the stature (and loveable old rogue-ness) of Warren Mitchell in the role almost threatens to turn the play on its head.
So it is very much to the credit of Mitchell and director Sean Holmes that, while the star gives a performance of absolute authority and comic skill, he does generously hand the play back to the other characters at the proper time.
Larry Lamb, as the cop, starts the play a bit too weak for my taste, deferring as straight man to Mitchell's comedy too self-effacingly. But when the focus shifts to him, and his character gets to express his long-suppressed anger, his fiery eloquence is both frightening and believable.
As the doctor Des McAleer has the difficult job of convincing the others, and us, that he is not the monster of his brother's memory, and he is very moving as a man trying to make up for past sins while also aware that they are not all his to expiate. Sian Thomas is too brittle as the cop's wife, and thus contributes to what I find to be the production's one failing.
Miller has two very powerful things to tell us in this play - first, that our lives are driven, not by running toward some goal, but by fleeing some terror, and that we create our lives to protect us from what we most fear; and second, that in the case of the cop, this seeming loser, fleeing from the unbearable knowledge that there had been no love in his family, created in himself an ability to love that is heroic.
And my only complaint about this production is that this second revelation is sloughed over somewhat, leaving us more with the intellectual discovery of the first than with the moving inspiration of the whole.
Still, The Price remains one of Miller's most powerfully moving plays, and also one of his most beautifully written. As with the best plays of Tennessee Williams, you will come out of the theatre on a contact high from the sheer eloquence of the language and operatic heights of the passion.
And, thanks to Warren Mitchell and Miller's uncharacteristic mastery of comedy, you'll also laugh a lot.
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Review - The Price - Tricycle 2002