What do our decisions cost us and others? Whose version of family history is the right one? Do we ever really know why we do what we do? The Next Stage’s production of Arthur Miller’s “The Price” asks these questions and more during performances at the Studio, upstairs at The State Theatre in State College.
Writing in 1967 as the Vietnam War was surging, Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, dramatized both the need to untangle history and the difficulty of doing it. He did this by focusing on something closer to home: Family.
This Next Stage production features Tom McClary as Gregory Solomon, Jeff Brown as Victor Franz, John Austin as Walter Franz, and the role of Esther Franz played by director Elaine Meder-Wilgus, who leads the cast in this eloquent and powerful examination of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
“The Price” focuses on two brothers: Victor, a police sergeant, eligible for retirement and approaching his 50th birthday, and Walter, a successful doctor who Victor hasn’t spoken to in years. On the surface, “The Price,” is about Victor trying to get a good price for the furniture that his family moved up to the attic of their brownstone years earlier.
“In true Arthur Miller fashion, however, the plot point of selling the furniture before the old brownstone is torn down, is only the premise that ultimately brings two long-estranged brothers together in a taut, compelling play that leaves us questioning the price we might have paid for the life we have chosen,” Meder-Wilgus said. “Add in Esther, Victor’s wife, who is waiting for their life to begin as Victor approaches retirement from the New York City police department, and a lovable old dealer, and you’ve got a play that remains one of Arthur Miller’s most poignant, albeit, least produced plays.”
Gregory Solomon is an old Jewish used furniture dealer. A Russian emigrant, he has settled in New York City after a very eventful life which has included an early career as an acrobat, a stint in the British Navy, and several marriages.
“Solomon serves at least two main purposes: First, he is quite funny — a valuable quality which balances some of the more serious moments in the play,” McClary said. “Second, he is a contrast to the father of the two brothers whose conflict is central to the action.”
Prior to moving to State College in 2005, McClary lived in New York City for 22 years. He has an master’s degree in drama and earned his living as an actor during the 1970s and ’80s. McClary is also a published poet and a playwright, whose works have been performed regionally.
Brown’s character, Victor Franz, is the central figure in the play.
“He’s a cop who’s nearing retirement and is questioning many of the decisions he’s made in his life,” Brown said. “At the same time, he and his estranged brother are dividing their late father’s estate and uncovering some painful truths about their lives and what the decisions they made have cost them — thus, ‘The Price.’ ”
“The Price” is one of the less well-known plays of one of America’s great twentieth century playwrights. Nonetheless, it is an extremely entertaining and thoughtful drama.
“ ‘The Price’ deserves to be performed more often than it is,” McClary said. “It deals with topics which many audience members will recognize and appreciate: family rivalry, guilt, regret, greed, ambition and the fragility of memory.”
“ ‘The Price’ speaks to everyone on some level or another, because many of us have gone through the process of dividing up an estate or have experienced rifts between family members that have gone on far too long,” Brown said. “And, I think, many of us have questioned what we’ve done with our lives and if the cost, in every aspect, was really worth it.”
Meder-Wilgus has been a director and actor in the local area for many years, with her first directing experience for The Next Stage in 2000. She has worked as both an actor and director for State College Community Theatre, Tempest Studios and in several other independent productions over the years.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from “The Price,” Brown believes it’s that ones’ life shouldn’t be measured just by money or fame or possessions, and that we should be proud of a life well lived for all of the right reasons.
“Despite what Madison Avenue tries to drill into our heads, if a person can look at him or herself in the mirror and feel good about themselves and what they’ve accomplished — no matter how small or insignificant to the outside world — then that should be enough,” he said.
McClary hopes the audience will see in this play something they have known or felt themselves: The jarring effect of family conflict, the will to survive and the need to make peace with the past.“By seeing how the characters in ‘The Price’ deal with these issues, perhaps the audience will take away something of value for their own lives,” he said.
“I also hope they find a good deal to laugh and smile about during the performance; because despite the seriousness of the action and themes, this is really one of Arthur Miller’s most enjoyable works.”