Arthur Miller wrote plays that seem timeless. The Price, now playing at Arena Stage, takes place in 1968, but could easily have been set in present time. When financial crises cause people to lose their savings and homes, sacrifices are made and oftentimes those decisions lead to resentments that ultimately tear families apart.
There are other themes that resonate today. Which sibling will assume responsibility for the care of an aging relative, perhaps putting his or her own future aspirations aside? And what will happen to the family’s worldly possessions once both parents die? In the play, neither brother wants the antiques and household goods. These days, Baby Boomers are finding that millennials prefer Ikea over “brown furniture.”
It’s been 30 years since Victor Franz’s father died. He finally must deal with disposing of what was left behind – tables, dressers, clothes, a victrola, records, and a harp, among other things. (Set Designer Wilson Chin has transformed Arena’s Kogood Cradle into a set that not only looks but smells like an attic crammed with timeworn treasures.) After calls to his brother, Walter, go unanswered, Victor arranges to meet Gregory Solomon, an octogenarian antique dealer with a battered briefcase and a schtick. Despite his years, Solomon hasn’t lost his ability to talk a good game and make a deal.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Pearl Sun
The sum offered by Solomon seems acceptable to Victor. His wife, Esther, believes she and her husband are owed more after caring for Victor’s father. Walter finally shows up and although he says he doesn’t expect a share of the proceeds, he sides with Esther, saying that the offer isn’t enough.
What is the price for a life? Victor was interested in science and could have enjoyed a successful career. Rather than college, he became a cop so that he could care for his father. Walter, determined to pursue his education, became a doctor. The two brothers have been estranged with much left unsaid. Clearing out the attic also results in the two men unburdening themselves of the baggage they have been carrying around for many years.
Hal Linden and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Hal Linden seems tailor made for the role of Solomon. Although Linden has an impressive stage resume, many will remember him for his most famous character, the beleaguered precinct police captain Barney Miller in the comedy of the same name which aired on ABC from 1975 to 1982. He hasn’t lost his stage presence. His Solomon is, at turns, likable, infuriating, annoying, and hard to resist. After so many years in the business, Solomon understands the complexities involved in purchasing a family estate. Linden’s timing is impeccable, whether he’s pressuring Victor to accept the deal, or pausing to eat a hard boiled egg. Solomon is a pro and so is Linden.
As Victor, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh goes toe to toe with Linden. Solomon uses the various pieces of furniture to draw Victor out about his father and their lives. Ebrahimzadeh displays a range of emotions during these conversations that sum up his feelings about his father and his life. Esther (Pearl Sun) plays the long-suffering wife perhaps too well. Her outbursts often become shrill and it’s hard to understand what kept the marriage together all these years.
Hal Linden and Rafael Untalan
Walter (Rafael Untalan) bursts onto the scene as someone who is accustomed to taking charge. Blowing up the deal between Victor and Solomon diminishes his brother and serves as the catalyst for a confrontation that is long overdue. Walter’s life has fallen short, too, but that confession fails to elicit sympathy from Victor. As secrets filter out, there’s more than enough blame to go around.
There’s a reason that family dramas continue to be so popular. No family is perfect and we all see a little of our own history in these stories. Miller wrote some of the best plays that tapped into these themes. In her Director’s Note, Seema Sueko said the play is about “fighting to heal.” And who couldn’t use a little healing these days?
Top photo: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Hal Linden
Photo Credit: Colin Hovde
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Seema Sueko
1101 Sixth Street SW