Review: Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’ at Thunder River Theatre
IF YOU GO …
What: Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’
Where: Thunder River Theatre Company, Carbondale
When: Through March 10
How much: $15-$30
Thunder River Theatre Co. devotees have gotten to know Owen O’Farrell over the years as one of western Colorado’s great character actors. We’ve seen the longtime local and sometime bus driver steal scenes with his memorable spins on small or supporting roles in diverse recent productions from “American Buffalo” to “Rashomon” and “The Tempest.”
In Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” which opened last weekend and runs through March 10 at the Carbondale theater, O’Farrell gets the opportunity to carry a dramatic production as a lead. He rises to the challenge.
O’Farrell plays Vic, a New York cop who deferred his dreams and quit college in order to support his ailing father while his charming older brother went to medical school and became a hot-shot surgeon.
The play opens with Vic alone among a mountain of clutter and furniture in his childhood home. We soon learn he’s preparing to sell it all, the belongings of his long-dead parents, which have been gathering dust since his father lost the family fortune in the crash of 1929 (the play is set in 1968).
He’s there to meet an elderly appraiser — played with relish by Colorado stage stalwart Bob Moore — to set a price for it all. Moore’s rumpled appraiser, a Mr. Solomon, is full of aphoristic wisdom, Yiddish-isms and deadpan humor (yes, this Arthur Miller drama is quite funny, thanks in large part to Moore’s playful rendering).
After Vic and Solomon circle each other for most of the first act and set a price, the brother, Walter (Jeff Carlson), arrives unexpectedly and proclaims: “I don’t want to interfere.” Which means, of course, that he will interfere — with a proposed tax scheme to get rich off the scale, among other suggestions that grate on Vic — and will propel the brothers to an emotional eruption of fraternal conflict that digs into their family’s painful past.
“The Price” ends up being a battle over the definition of success, and the conflict between making money and preserving integrity — like so much of Miller’s work, it’s about the casualties of the American Dream and how that chasing it lays waste to winners and losers alike.
O’Farrell’s riveting performance gradually peels away Vic’s hardened layers of regret, pride, shame and resentment — this rotund guy in an ill-fitting policeman’s uniform is much more than the working stiff he first appears to be. As the play builds to its frothy climax, Vic bursts out: “There’s a price people pay! I’ve paid it. I haven’t got it anymore.”
Trary Madalone plays Vic’s bored and disillusioned wife, Esther. Unfortunately, Miller’s text doesn’t give her much to do with the role. After an early scene where she bickers with Vic over their lifestyle and how they’ve put off joy for so long, she recedes into the background.
Directed by Corey Simpson, “The Price” is visually dominated by its fantastic set. It’s a wild bricolage of furniture — borrowed by Thunder River from Habitat for Humanity’s local ReStore — with dressers and tables, chairs and armoires and such piled high and looming over the proceedings of the play as the past looms over its characters.
When you think of Arthur Miller, you think of the big ones — the playwright’s totemic works of American theater “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible” along with classics like “A View from the Bridge” and “All My Sons.” And then there’s the rest.
Premiered on Broadway 50 years ago, “The Price” has been performed less frequently than those major works. But that may be changing, thanks to last year’s acclaimed Broadway revival and the attention “The Price” received in the HBO documentary “Arthur Miller: Writer.” It’s an important play that, like all of Miller’s best works, asks Americans to take a hard look at themselves and their values. This Thunder River regional production is a gem.
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