Unquestionably one of the greatest American playwrights of the Twentieth Century, the prolific Arthur Miller had his finger on the heartbeat of everyday Americans and the tenor of his times, whether in The Crucible, which held the mirror up to the witch hunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy by setting the play in the literal witch hunt of Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s, or the angst of a struggling, aging Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman, or The Price, which Miller said was a response to the Viet Nam War that was raging in 1968, the year of the play’s Broadway debut. The Price was Tony nominated as Best Play, only to be nosed out by Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
The Price, now in production at International City Theatre, is a spellbinding family drama of intense emotion played out in the cluttered attic apartment of a Manhattan Brownstone scheduled for demolition. A beat cop eligible for retirement, Victor Franz (David Nevell) wearily enters and sheds his uniform jacket and weapons to survey the dust and clutter where he lived with his aging father who was reduced to poverty by the stock market crash of 1929. He has summoned Gregory Solomon (the extraordinary Tony Abatemarco), a Russian Jewish estate appraiser pushing ninety with a short stick, looking to get some cash from the extraordinary clutter. Victor’s wife, Esther (Elyse Mirto), enters. She is attractive, blonde, beautifully coiffed and Filene’s Basement chic. The childless couple are easy with one another, but with a thread of unhappiness woven into the texture of their relationship.
Life has been a struggle and a disappointment. Victor abandoned his promising career as a science student at college to care for his shattered father, while his brother, Walter (Bo Foxworth), went on in college to become a successful, well-regarded surgeon. There is resentment there. The brothers have been estranged for years. Victor has tried to contact him, but was unsuccessful. There is some money to be had with the sale of the contents of the apartment, hence the summoning of the appraiser. The painfully honest Victor figures his brother should inherit half of the proceeds, however much it might turn out to be. He is surprised when his brother shows up just before the end of the first act.
Walter comes on strong and confident, expensively dressed. His manner is hollowly self-assured, a presentation that cracks and crumbles as the play goes on and resentments and defenses are displayed. The simmering emotions of the first act come to a boil in the second, as historic grievances and justifications on all sides are flung and parried. The emotions displayed are tremendously affecting. Only the presence of old Solomon serves to ameliorate the tension.
The Price, under the sure-handed direction of John Henry Davis, has a cast that plumbs the depths of emotion with world-class assurance, surfing the surging and relaxing waters of passion with skill and confidence. Mr. Nevell gives his character the everyman nobility so characteristic of Miller’s writing. As his brother, Mr. Foxworth twists and turns, now belligerent, now wheedling, now reasonable, now apologetic, as he paints the portrait of a self-absorbed character. Ms. Mirto is a buffer between the two. She is strong and in no way self-sacrificing, but rather a woman who pursues her own agenda as she dreams of a future life with her retired husband.
Mr. Abatemarco is a pixyish wonder as the outsider in the familial conflict. With an authentic New York Russian Jewish dialect, the old guy hems and haws around the bargaining of a price for the many extraordinary items on display. Providing the necessary comic relief, he is the spoon on a pot of boiling emotions, there to keep it from overflowing. It is a flat out brilliant performance.
Scenic designer Yuri Okahana and property designers Patty and Gordon Briles are faithful to the playwright’s demands. The design represents “the chaos of ten rooms of furniture squeezed into this one.” Dan Weingarten’s lighting design is suitably subtle as is Dave Mickey’s sound design. Hair and wig designs are by Anthony Gagliardi. And the stage is confidently managed by Donna R. Parsons.
The Price, produced by caryn desai and presented by International City Theatre, continues though May 26 at the Beverley O’ Neill Theater in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.