What price would you put on family? On every single object your family owned? What price would you put on memories? On jealousy, envy, bitterness? These are only some of the questions an audience will reflect on about after they see The Price at Raven Theater. The Price, a play written by Arthur Miller, set in 1966, in an old attic piled high with antique furniture, stored away mementos, and buried memories. Two brothers, played by Chuck Spencer and Jon Steinhagen, meet in the attic to sort through their deceased parents’ belongings. Decades of sacrifice, resentment, bitterness and jealousy ignite when the fraternal debate moves beyond the costs and values of the items to the price and successes of their own lives.
The beauty of the play is that is doesn’t require a lot of deep thought and analysis to see what Miller was really trying to get across. As Director Michael Menendian states, “[the play] deals with universal issues of family loyalty, sibling rivalry and commitment to a certain code of conduct. I want the audience to question what they would do in the shoes of the characters.” So what would you do if you were the aging Victor on the brink of retirement, forced to go into active police duty to help support your sick, out-of-work father and ultimately sell away his possessions in order to put the money towards your future? What would you do if you were Walter, the successful brother whose familial loathing caused a chasm between you and your only sibling, a sibling who resents your choices and wants nothing to do with you no matter how many olive branches you extend? All very tough questions for someone to face.
While this play still translates well into our modern day, ultimately what holds this back is how drastically different of a time this play was set in. As twenty and thirty-somethings, we’ve all read or heard stories from our parents and grandparents of the difficult times the depression and WWII caused. And we know that in the 60’s, most people were able to retire at the age of fifty with a modest retirement fund. But what is hard to gauge from the play are the cultural and socioeconomic pressures that were being placed on the characters of the time. It’s all understated throughout the play, only glimpses through stories and memories of the characters. But it obviously is necessary to truly grasp the weight of the decisions the characters are making, particularly when the appraiser in the play offers Victor $1150 for all his father’s furniture and possessions. That is a small sum by today’s standards, but in the 1960’s that was a huge chunk of change, or as my fiancé said, a new car. It’s the only thing that would come between an understanding of the play and an empathy for the play’s theme. While I can empathize with Victor and Walter’s sibling tension and fighting, I cannot wholly understand the impact of the value they place on the furniture for that time.
The Price really is a multifaceted play. On the one hand, the actual price in the play is focused around the possessions in the brownstone which is about to get demolished. The price being offered for Walter and Victor’s childhood toys, furniture, and the like by the eighty-nine year-old appraiser. On the other hand, and the real deep meaning within the play is the price one has to pay to get to where they end up in life. Walter ends up a wealthy and successful doctor, but his success came with an alienated brother, a wife who divorced him, and an emotional and mental breakdown. Victor ends up a police officer, walking the same beat for twenty eight years, afraid to move on with his life, afraid of ending up like his father, and regretting that he was never able to continue his education. The price they paid for their decisions, and the price we all pay for our decisions, is something no one wants to think about. Arthur Miller brings to light a painful and deeply personal subject in this play. Between the estranged brothers, the disappointed wife, and the philosophical appraiser, the themes of life, loss, and the choices we make are thrust to the forefronts of the audience’s minds.
What I can say is this very worth the price to see The Price at Raven Theater. That is, if you value my opinion.