By Arthur Miller
16-21 January, 2017
The Price is seldom staged. It has never been regarded as one of Arthur Miller's top-tier dramas - this accolade is reserved for Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and The Crucible. When it was first performed in 1968 it was pounced on by the critics. Negative comments included - it 's too wordy and overwritten; nothing 'kicks-in' until the arrival of the elder brother, Walter, at the end of Act I; and the family revelations are unveiled in an arbitrary manner. You may very well agree with the original critics. It's true that nothing happens or can happen in The Price. All the action has taken place before the play starts and we, as the audience, have been brought along to listen to the explanations and comprehend how these two brothers by the choices of their youth have come to be the men they are. Given all this then, you may ask, why has Bingley Little Theatre decided to include The Price in this year's programme? Good question! Of course I cannot speak for BLT's decision-makers and can only offer you a personal view. But there is no question that this is an extremely challenging piece to work on. The Price represents a rare opportunity to present four characters - all of infinite fascination - in an engrossing 'chamber' drama where raw emotion is laid bare. If a play is judged as being 'good' by the way it explores human nature - then The Price must be a 'good' play.
When two estranged brothers reunite to dispose of their parents' Depression-era furniture, a wary civility soon gives way to accusations and counter-arguments. Festering bitterness, resentment and jealousy boil over. Although the almighty dollar is at the root of their grievances, the price of their separation takes a toll on both brothers far beyond any monetary value.
Victor at 50 is a New York cop who hasn't the courage to quit a job he detests and begin a new life. His elder brother, Walter, is a prestigious surgeon - not as bright as Victor - but more ambitious. Why haven't they spoken for sixteen years? Like the old furniture their secrets and duplicity is locked away in the musty attic.
Solomon the clever, antique dealer, gives us a little light relief - a quality often lacking in Miller. However, he is by no means merely a comic interlude! He is self aware, clever, worldly and by purchasing the furniture to re-sell is embarking on a risky adventure for pleasure. He provides a striking contrast to Victor - forty years his junior - who cannot move from the 'rut' he is in - irrespective of the issues this creates for his wife, Esther.
The label of Arthur Miller is not an easy one for a cast and crew to bear and this is especially true in this case - and for an amateur theatre group. If you have come along expecting to see a perfectly crafted piece of classical drama then The Price may disappoint. However, if you have come expecting an evening of raw, demanding theatre then The Price may very well deliver the goods! On behalf of the cast and crew we all hope that the latter is the case!
First performed in the mid 60s, it would be easy to assume this play is “stuck in time”. Notwithstanding fashion and style, nothing could be further from the truth. The issues Miller explores leap out. They can be exceptionally powerful for any of us with experience of dealing with an elderly loved one, and disposing of their property following their death.
If there are siblings - who takes on the responsibility to care? How is this decided? What is the job worth? What is The Price paid by the carer, and how does the price they pay affect their own lives? What is “The Price” of the deceased’s belongings? The memories they encapsulate may be priceless, but as Mr. Solomon, the dealer tells us “With used furniture you cannot be emotional”.
When there is no will or last requests, who takes the assets or “The Price” the dealer pays for them? How easy is this to resolve? What past actions come to light? What prejudices and misunderstandings emerge? And when the final settlement is reached - however satisfactorily - how easy is it to reconcile whatever happened in the past in order to secure positive relationships in the future?
This is a challenging play: wordy, hard hitting and dramatic. The cast and crew have worked extremely hard, and between us we hope to give you a satisfying and possibly unsettling, theatrical experience.
Thank you for coming!