Spotlight Article by Sabrina Furminger
Past and present collide in a dank attic apartment in 1960s New York City in Arthur Miller’s The Price, a searing drama about family relationships and who is truly to blame when lives don’t unfold as planned.
The two-act play – which premiered on Broadway in 1968, nearly two decades after Miller’s Death of a Salesman made its debut – details the fateful and revelatory meeting between estranged brothers Victor (a cop) and Walter (a doctor), Victor’s wife Esther, and octogenarian furniture dealer Solomon. On the night of the play, Solomon joins the family in the apartment that was once the home of the family’s deceased patriarch to make a financial offer on the latter’s worldly possessions.
In the final analysis, everyone – even Solomon – gets something different than what they’d expected at the outset.
“It’s one of these plays about revelation and the underlying life of the characters,” says Adam Henderson, director of United Players’ production of The Price. The play, he says, “starts off almost as a mystery. The opening beats of the play have a policeman entering this obscure place, so the first instinct that the audience has is, ‘Oh, it’s a mystery, like an Agatha Christie story.’ There’s a lot of deception in what Arthur Miller has done, and then he has this Solomon character wander in, and it’s like he’s wandered out of a Neil Simon play, so I think Arthur Miller is constantly playing with our perceptions of what we expect a play to be.”
In this way, The Price subverts audience expectations, as well as those that are clung to by the four characters, according to Henderson. “The play is about the lies we tell ourselves because we can’t quite see ourselves clearly, and as a result, the characters are always approaching a revelation where they suddenly understand something, and then suddenly and reactively twist off in an evasive reaction, so that they wind up not seeing the thing that’s right in front of their face.”
Henderson grew up four blocks away from where the events of The Price take place, and that proximity has affected how he’s directed the play. “In 1968, I was an eight-year-old living in New York City,” says Henderson. “It’s a world I know very well. I have a lot of memories of that time, and a lot of sympathy for the characters.”
That’s not to say that this is a play that is deeply rooted in the political, sociological, and cultural landscape of late 1960s America. Says Henderson: “Although [Miller] was very politically active, there is no mention of current events, although he says the play takes place in the present. There’s no mention of Vietnam, or Nixon, or any of the assassinations that had been going down, so that makes me, as I read it, immediately suspect that Arthur Miller is going for an allegory, for an epic story rather than a domestic one.”
“I think there’s a metaphor for what was tearing America apart at that time which was think the polarization that you feel in American society right now I remember very clearly as a child in 1968,” adds Henderson. “[There were] these two warring brothers who can’t see from each other’s point of view at all.”
The Price is the kind of play that offers catharsis and self-reflection, according to Henderson. “Theatre is my church,” he says. “It’s where we go to examine the deeper, darker parts of ourselves, and what you always want is for the audience to have a personal relationship with the characters in that you recognize the characters’ mistakes in your own life, and that it may shine a little more light on the universality of the human condition which is that we all share this same inability to see the inconvenient truth.”
United Players’ production of The Price features Patrick Bahrich as Victor, Christine Iannette as Esther, Sjahari Hollands as Solomon, and Rob Monk as Walter.
It is directed by Adam Henderson and production managed by Fran Burnside, with technical direction by Leighton Taylor, sound design by David Campbell, set design by R. Todd Parker, lighting design by Jacob Wan, costume design by Catherine E. Carr, props design by Josina de Bree, and set decoration by Linda Begg. Larisse Campbell serves as assistant to the director.
Adam Henderson has directed: Figaro, Democracy, London Assurance, Way of the World, Power of Yes, Present Laughter, Breath of Life, The Circle, Constant Wife, Aristocrats (United Players); Buddy (Persephone); Pillowman (Firehall); American Pilot, Romance, and at London’s Almeida and the Edinburgh Festival. He has danced at Covent Garden, and acted in London’s West End and National Theatre and in Vancouver in Godot, Peer Gynt, Mary Stuart, Skull in Connemara, Dial ‘M’, Cyrano, Arturo Ui, Plan B, Winter Harp, and Beckett’s All That Fall. Adam directed The Suppliant Women last season for United Players and starred in Jerusalem.
Miller was often in the public eye, particularly during the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. During this time, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was married to Marilyn Monroe. He received the Prince of Asturias Award, the Praemium Imperiale prize in 2002 and the Jerusalem Prize in 2003, as well as the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in 1999. Miller died on the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman at age 89.
-With files from Wikipedia