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Bad blood and recriminations – The Price at Theatre West

Bad blood and recriminations – The Price at Theatre West

They just don”™t write plays like they used to. They really don”™t. Playwright Arthur Miller is an American legend, and not simply because he was movie siren Marilyn Monroe”™s third husband. Born in 1915, Miller was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years. Miller died in 2005 and his works remains the standard against which almost all modern American drama is measured.

photos by Mark W. Travis
photos by Mark W. Travis

Arthur Miller wrote plays, screenplays, novels, short stories, non-fiction and an autobiography, but he is probably best remembered for his play Death of a Salesman, winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was the first play ever to win all three prestigious awards at once.

Miller based his works on American history and his own life as well as his observations of (largely) contemporary American culture. He fashioned universal stories about an individual”™s struggle with his society, his family, and above all, himself. Miller”™s characters are plagued by anxiety, depression, and guilt – all trials to which almost everyone can relate. He created works that were familiar, identifiable and remarkable for their power to move an audience.

Currently playing at Theatre West near Universal Studios, on weekends until March 21st, is Miller”™s family drama The Price, directed by Stu Berg.

In the attic of a soon-to-be-demolished house, two brothers meet after a long estrangement to dispose of their dead parents”™ property. One is Victor, a policeman who sacrificed his education and a possible career as a scientist to care for his ruined, invalid father. The other, Walter, is an eminent surgeon who walked out on the demands of family to concentrate on medicine and personal success. Their confrontation leads them to examine the events and qualities of their very different lives and the price that each of them has had to pay.

Two others are present, each with their own agendas – Walter”™s devoted wife, Esther and Gregory, an 89-year-old used furniture dealer, rejuvenated by the activity of negotiating a more literal price for the goods to be sold.

As Victor notes, there”™s a price that people pay for the choices that they make in the conduct of their lives. The two brothers prove no exception to this observation.

The 1968 play by Arthur Miller has been one of the most successful and justly acclaimed works by this 20th Century American master.

The Price may have been first staged on Broadway in 1968, but as with all good plays its themes stand the test of time. Miller”™s play is about family dynamics, the price of furniture and – above all – the price of one”™s decisions and how they affect your life.

At first the scenario is full of easy banter and wry exchanges between Vic (Cal Bartlett) and his wife Esther (Dianne Travis), as they contemplate the clutter and detritus of a lifetime – that is, the remaining belongings of Walter”™s long deceased father.  Turns out the brownstone where Vic lived with his father is due for demolition and the time has come to deal with its contents. Hovering over the tiresome task is a far more onerous one; Vic feels duty bound to attempt to contact his estranged brother Walter (Don Moss) before he disposes of all of their parents”™ belongings. Gradually a picture emerges of lingering resentment and failed dreams.

photos by Mark W. Travis
photos by Mark W. Travis

By the conclusion of Act One, Vic”™s estranged brother makes a dramatic appearance and the remainder of the play is comprised of some long speeches that beautifully illustrate everyone”™s recriminations and bitterness regarding a perceived moral debt. A lifetime of bad blood, regrets and resentment bubble to the surface as the two brothers face off and level accusations at each other.

Offering plenty of comic relief is the wonderful performance by Marvin Kaplan. He plays the wily Russian-Jewish – almost nonagenarian – antique dealer who puffs up the stairs during Act One to strike a deal with Vic and Esther on the various pieces of furniture and other assorted contents. With his blustering and prevaricating, as well as hilarious double takes, Kaplan gives a fantastic comedic performance that skirts caricature. The rest of the cast acquit themselves well with this wonderful piece of drama.

While the speeches during Act Two *are* long, Miller”™s play nevertheless is marvelously constructed and exemplary in its dramatic perfection.

Well worth seeing.

Theatre West

3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W.
Los Angeles, CA 90068

Runs:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.. Sundays at 2pm, until March 21st, 2010.

Tickets:

$22″”25.00; Seniors $17.00;  Students (25 and under) $5.00

Box Office:

(323) 851 7977

Online ticketing here

Review by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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