Do you love furniture? Are you looking at dealing with sibling in a dividing up the parental household furnishings. “The Price” will give you something to consider. This weekend is your last chance to see this beautifully produced and well-acted production at the Mark Taper Forum.

First, for Pasadenans and lovers of fine furniture, you will rarely see that production of this caliber that will have you salivating over the furniture finds on display. I was told many of the pieces came from the Rose Bowl swapmeet. If you get there early, run up to the stage and look at those lovely pieces so artistically arranged. If you don’t get there early, then take time during intermission to admire these pieces.

No word on if the Mark Taper plans to auction or sell these set pieces. One can only hope.

Written by Arthur Miller, “The Price” opened on Broadway with Harold Gary, Pat Hingle, Kate Reid and Arthur Kennedy in 1968. It was nominated for two Tony Awards, but lost in the Best Play category to Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” 

The play centers on Victor Franz (Sam Robards), a police sergeant who is now, after 28 years on the force,  eligible for retirement as he approaches his fiftieth birthday. He is married to Esther (Kate Burton). They are meeting a Russian-Jewish antique dealer, Gregory Solomon (Alan Mandell), who claims to be nearly 90 years old. Victor also has a brother, Walter (John Bedford Lloyd), who is a successful doctor. We do not see them in their homes or workplaces. We do not see them as professionals or in comfy surroundings. Instead, all the action takes place in an old attic of a building that will soon be torn down.

Victor has invited Gregory to look at the old furniture that belonged to his parents. His parents are long dead but the furniture has been stored for years after the father’s businesses failed and his fortune vanished with the stock market crash of 1929. Downstage is one chair where the old man used to sit and view the treasures from his days as a success. Beside the chair is an old gramophone. Victor briefly listens to a “laugh” record.

Victor became a policeman instead of going on to a better profession in order to support his father who was crushed by failure. Victor could have been a scientist, but Walter had refused to help with their father. That is how Victor sees it. Although the furniture and other possessions belong to both brothers, Walter has not returned Victor’s attempts to contact him. It’s only when the deal is almost closed that Walter intrudes and after 16 years of estrangement, the brothers reveal the family dynamics.

Victor interprets Walter’s every act of generosity as an act of charity. Robards’ Victor seems like a down-to-earth guy but he bristles and hardens in the presence of his brother. Esther desperately sees the money, any amount of money as their chance to finally live as Victor’s due. Burton’s Esther has her own anger, one that may be fueled by an alcoholic’s illusions. Supported by Esther’s own rage against life’s injustices, Victor has built his life based on anger at his brother’s lack of loyalty and love for their father and Walter has built a life bereft of love and loyalty. Emotionally empty and now divorced from his wife, Walter needs the family he too willingly left. Lloyd’s Walter seems genuinely reconciliatory, and clear-sighted except to the ruin his selfish ambition has brought.

The price of the furniture and the price of decisions made by both Walter and Victor as well as those made by the long-dead father weigh heavily upon all three of the Franzs. Undoubtedly, in his lifetime, Gregory Solomon has seen such things play out before.

When I first saw this, the concepts and consequences were more abstract. Now they are looming reality. My relatives have passed away. Some are living alone with houses and possessions. Time is passing and the end is near.

You might think that Mandell is the weakest point of the ensemble, but you realize that he is its core strength. As Gregory Solomon, Mandell’s voice seems thin. You lean in to hear him. His pauses are a bit too long. The characters are always waiting impatiently, sometimes with good humor, other times not.

Yet I don’t see this as a misjudgment by director Garry Hynes. One can imagine the father, the man we never see, broken by economic hard times, clinging to remnants of the past. From his chair he could listen to the recorded sounds of laughter and remember the days of sunshine and wealth while looking at the beautiful furniture that once formed acknowledgement of his success and good judgment. Yet one can imagine the father, the man we never see, broken by economic hard times, clinging to remnants of the past. From his chair he could listen to the recorded sounds of laughter and remember the days of sunshine and wealth while looking at the beautiful furniture that once formed acknowledgement of his success and good judgment.

Unless we die young, we will all get to that kind of age, where we are too slow for those around us and find the most common reaction to our slower pace is impatience. We will had made bad decisions but hopefully the good ones will outweigh them. We can only hope to leave behind memories, some attached to the things we left behind. Someone will weigh the price of our decisions and, almost cruelly, the balance in the values of what material goods we have left behind.

Tickets for “The Price” are available by calling (213) 628-2772 or visiting online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. Tickets range from $25 – $85 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

Post-Show talks:

Sat, March 21 at 2:30 p.m. – Project D.A.T.E. performance (ASL Interpretation, Open Captioning and Audio Description)

Sun, March 22 at 6:30 p.m.

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