Review: The Price

This isn’t Arthur Miller’s finest work, but this Gate production doesn’t leave the audience short changed

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 17:37

The Price

Gate Theatre, Dublin

****

The last play Doug Hughes directed at Dublin’s Gate Theatre was another American work concerned with money, success and failure. David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross shares much thematic overlap with Arthur Miller’s The Price, notably the idea of what something - an object, a relationship, a family history - is actually worth.

The Price is mid-career Miller and opens on the top floor of an old New York brownstone in the 1960s. Once the home of the Franz family, the building is about to be demolished and all possessions must be removed.

Victor Franz (Denis Conway) wanders the dreary attic, which is crammed with furniture, vases, and an old gramophone, soaking up the memories these things have for him. A fencing foil and gauntlet hints at a past, possible life for Vic, now a 50-year-old NYPD policeman who can’t seem to make the final leap to retirement from a job he despises. His wife Esther (Fiona Bell) implores him to negotiate with the furniture dealer who will appraise their bric-a-brac. Esther drinks, Victor is paralysed, and she describes their reality as “we were always about to be”.

If the sale is superficially about decluttering and a financial windfall, Victor is really waiting to see if his estranged brother Walter – a successful doctor – will appear. Enter Gregory Solomon (Lewis J Stadlen), the octogenarian Yiddish dealer who for all his chatter, is reluctant to give Vic a “price” for the attic’s contents. Stadlen is an exceptional actor and provides a comic element not often seen in Miller’s work.

Walter (Barry McGovern) arrives in the dying moments of act one, and sets in motion an exploration of the arbitrary nature of memory, as both men recall their father with conflicting views. The characters discuss the value of objects, but their loss of connection is beyond currency.

The Price is not ranked as highly as Miller’s landmark plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Its revelation and denouement arrive in circles of exposition and repetition, and feel laboured compared to the rest of the play. Those faults, however, are with the writing, and not this engaging production, which is affecting, comic, and with a first-rate cast. Francis O’Connor’s imposing set of cascading chairs and peeling wallpaper combines with Sinéad McKenna’s muted lighting to capture the grimy claustrophobia. The rat race may be an external, societal construct, but there are winners and losers in every family.

Runs until August 16

Sinéad Gleeson