Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A play for today, Arthur Miller's The Price

The Price by Arthur Miller
Vienna's English Theatre
Josefgasse 12, 1080 Vienna
from 26 Jan 09 to 6 Mar 09

One of Arthur Miller's most famous plays is The Price. In Vienna it is currently being performed in memory of the play's director Robert Prosky who died unexpectedly, on 8th December 2008, aged 78.

Robert Prosky's production opened in the summer of 2005 in Cape May, New Jersey, where it broke all box office records and received standing ovations every night. It was then transferred to the USA's oldest playhouse, Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre and from there to Washington DC's Theater J.

Of the Miller canon, which includes such masterpieces as The Crucible, A View From the Bridge and Death of a Salesman, Prosky claimed that The Price was second only to Death of a Salesman. If yesterday's edge-of-the-seat performance is anything to go by, he's probably right.

This poignant family drama opens in 1967 with the pensionable-age cop Victor Franz, a man with 28-years loyal service in the Force, mooching around in the attic of his dead father's 130-year old house, an old house scheduled for demolition. A modern New York building will soon replace it. Victor, mentally scarred and always one-step away from a psychiatrist's couch, is played with remarkable conviction by Andy Prosky, the late director's son.

Enter Ray Reinhardt, wonderfully philosophical and wise, in the role of the 89-year old second-hand dealer Gregory Solomon come to buy the house contents.

"So what have you got against money?" Solomon demands to know of the self-sacrificing, guilt-riven Victor, a man haunted by the suspicion that he has thrown the best years of his life away, as they haggle over the price.
"Have you got a licence?" counters Victor, always suspicious, always the cop.
"I'm registered, vaccinated and licensed," replies Solomon, "The only thing you can do today without a licence is to go up the elevator and jump out of the window."
"It took me 14 years to get my stripes," grumbles the cop, "Cos I wouldn't kiss ass."

As the exchanges continue old Gregory Solomon tries, in difficult circumstances, to remain philosophical, "The car, the furniture, the wife, the children; everything is disposable today," he tells Victor who demands a fair price for an ugly black dining table that Solomon can't possibly sell.
"What is salvation?" asks Solomon, "Go shopping," he answers himself. "I pick up the pieces," is how he defines his own role.
"You'll not walk away with the gravy and leave me with the bones," worries Victor, eyes growing ever darker, ever narrower.
"Every time I open my mouth you practically call me a thief," Solomon patters on, "The price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint. The chairs is worth something," he says, ignoring for now, the valuable piece in the corner.

It's the family heirloom, the golden harp, that Solomon is really after; the harp with the crack in the sounding-board, as he will keep reminding Victor and Victor's wife Esther (Leisa Mather), now back from the dry-cleaner's with Victor's best suit. To begin with, the long-suffering Esther is impressed by Solomon; she pats her new hair-do, smooths down her new twin-set and glances at her new shoes. She tells of her new ambitions for Victor, of the new direction his life must take. Victor panics, threatens to unravel. Solomon smiles benevolently, attempts to normalise the situation.

But then towards the end of the first act Victor's brother Walter (Gary Sloan), the wealthy doctor in the camel coat, suddenly arrives; and immediately the tension is ratched-up another two notches. The second half must produce a furious confrontation, one that will reveal the price the brothers must pay when they confront their past and their relationships to each other and to their father, or so we anticipate. And we are not to be disappointed.

Vienna's English Theatre is the ideal venue. Set designer Fred Kinney (Califorina State University) has taken Arthur Miller's claustrophobic attic, filled it with junk and one or two treasures and crammed it all onto the small English Theatre stage. It's exactly right. The family squabble, to put it mildly, as the second act builds to its climax cannot be escaped from. You are there. You are part of the whole damned and wonderful crisis-ridden experience.

It's the Wisdom of Solomon. It's the Wall Street Crash. It's the American Way of Life. It's the family skeleton. And it's the thing that goes bump in the attic. And right now, today, as millions of American families are suddenly thrown into their own particular family or financial crisis, Arthur Miller's play The Price is as relevant as ever.


  1. Surely the essence of a good play (or indeed any piece of creative work) is that it has relevance to the age - famous artworks - e.g. Shakespeare's plays, Guernica,
    a lot of war poetry and painting, (I could go on, but I won't) these things strike home today as much as they ever did - I think. Do you agree ?

  2. Yes. And so it is in this play for Solomon the Jewish dealer, the 89 year old Russian exile, rhymes off a long list of financial crashes starting in 1890 or so, and today here we are yet again. And really it's no surprise.
    Pawns shops are opening up. In town about 4 new supermarkets selling only out-of-date food at cut price to people with certain official papers. It's coming. The clouds are gathering. Another Solomon, or somebody, will pick up the pieces. That's a role. The others, if they don't jump out of the windows, will survive as best they can. That's another role.

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  4. Dear Poet In Residence,
    I thank you so much for your insightful,kind words regarding the production of Arthur Miller's
    "The Price" at Vienna's Englsh Theatre. As a member of the cast, I can say in all honesty, you got it all exactly right. It is a hard play to perform and our reward is knowing people like yourself understand what we are doing.
    Thank You So Much,
    Andy Prosky

  5. thank you so much for your kind and insightful comments on Athur Miller's "The Price" at Vienna's English Theatre. As a member of the cast, I can say you got it all right. We work hard to perform the play and to know that people such as yourself understand what we are doing is very rewarding.

    andy prosky

  6. Mr Prosky, Thank you for visiting the blog and taking the trouble to comment. It's much appreciated. Good luck and best wishes to you and all the cast.
    Gwilym Williams

  7. Wonderful photo of Ray Reihnhardt and Andy Prosky in a scene from the play. It's in in today's (1 Feb 09) Kronen Zeitung (Vienna Kultur p 54)


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