The Price
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by David Allen

Aurora Theatre in Berkeley starts its season on a very subtle war footing. True, most people who are familiar with Arthur Miller’s play The Price will be hard pressed to find any connection to war. But Miller did. “The Price was written in 1967 and it may as well be admitted that in some part it was a reaction to two big events that had come to overshadow all others in that decade,” Miller wrote in a New York Times article published 1999. “One was the seemingly permanent and morally agonizing Vietnam War, the other the surge of avant-garde plays that to one or another degree fit the absurd styles.”

The play is about two estranged brothers who get together to sell their father’s furniture after his death. The drama is set in 1968, nearly 40 years after the great stock market crash and the resulting depression. The father had lost a fortune and became a broken man. His son Victor gave up college and a career to take care of him. His son Walter gave up nothing and went off to be a successful doctor.

There is no reference to Vietnam. Though 1968 was the Tet offensive and the turning point of the war, there is no mention of this. But both brothers’ hatred of each other is locked into the past as the fighting in Vietnam was based on the fighting of WWII and the fear of Communism. “Sometimes I can’t remember what I have against you, but it hangs in me like a rock,” Victor (Charles Dean) says to his brother Walter (Michael Santo).

But the play is not all doom and gloom. There is much comic relief provided by the used furniture appraiser Gregory Solomon (Ray Beinhardt) who wheels and deals his way between the two brothers and Victor’s wife Esther (Judith Marx) to make the deal of his lifetime. Looking at the dining room table he says you “can’t move this table. A man sits down to this table; he knows he has to stay married. There’s no more possibilities.”

But there’s no moving the brothers’ enmity for each other into any kind of reconciliation. Their present is their past. “The Price grew out of a need to reconfirm the power of the past, the seedbed of current reality, and the way to possibly reaffirm cause and effect in an insane world,” wrote Miller in 1999. “It seemed to me that if, through the mists of denial, the bow of the ancient ship of reality could emerge, the spectacle might once again hold some beauty for an audience. If the play does not utter the word ‘Vietnam,’ it speaks to a spirit of unearthing the real that seemed to have nearly gone from our lives.”

For tickets or more information about this powerful drama call (510) 843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org.

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