“The Price” by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s “The Price” by LA Theater Works

I picked this out of my local library because I remembered Arthur Miller as one of the writers affected by the McCarthy era, blacklisted by the House of Unamerican Activities Committee. The recording was a radio drama, and I had been listening to KPCC’s “The Play’s The Thing” with delight since I moved to the area.

After I listened to “The Price” the first time, I immediately put in the first CD to listen to it again. Miller is an amazing writer. I am filled with admiration and envy– I’ll admit it. Wow! He tosses off such amazing insights like candy to a throng. He’s astoundingly prolific too. Reading his chronology of works shows that he just doesn’t stop…Play after magnificent play just roll off his pen.

“The Price” first premiered in 1968. By that time, both his parents had died, he had been married three times, Marilyn Monroe was his second wife, and had been persecuted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. His life spanned 2 world wars, the great depression and the rise of communism. As an American Jew, he encountered the holocaust and met concentration camp victims.

“The Price” is addressing how we pay for the life we choose. With all the dramatic examples of tumult and war and deprivation, Miller chose something much simpler. He took simple familiar family relationships and used it for the backdrop of his ideas. Victor and Walter are not utterly indistinguishable from the crowd, their family had drama. But given the times everyone had lived through, their drama was not extraordinary. One was a doctor, one was a policeman, and they confront one another about the choices they made that have brought them to where they are. Men in middle age taking stock and facing life-long illusions, they speak intensely and finally, with honesty, about their motivations.

The character of Mr. Solomon, the appraiser, really is priceless. He has such marvelous lines:

“The mania today is SHOPPING. Years ago, a person was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself, he go to church start a revolution, something…Today, you’re unhappy, Can’t figure it out, what is the salvation? Go shopping!”

And all in the most wonderful Jewish accent. He’s real glue, bringing out points that the others cannot.

Miller wrote so many plays, this one is great, and not even in his top ten. I’m glad that LA Theater Works has captured the drama and made it available to those of us who might not make it to a theater as often as we wish.