'Price' Well-Worth the Price of Admission

Arthur Miller, who turned 80 this month and says he is still writing, has two of his best plays up at local theaters. A fine version of "A View From the Bridge" is playing at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood. And International City Theatre in Long Beach now offers a knockout revival of the playwright's unjustly neglected "The Price."

This seemingly modest family drama--originally written as a long one-act but now running with an intermission--reaches a crescendo of emotion that few of today's active playwrights could match. Play-goers are by now so accustomed to dramatic irony that intense and sincerely expressed feeling seems either quaint or shocking, or, in the case of "The Price," both.

The setting is vintage Miller: a working-class New York neighborhood on the cusp of change. Veteran cop Victor Franz (Barry Lynch) wants to sell the possessions--armoires, phonographs, lamps, chairs, sofas, mirrors--piled high in his father's condemned loft. But the chore is interrupted by the arrival of Victor's brother Walter (H. Richard Greene), a rich surgeon to whom he has not spoken since their father's death 16 years earlier.

What follows is a blistering look at the price each brother paid for a life based on illusions and half-truths. Victor--pressured by his wife, Esther (Mary Chalon), to take early retirement from the force and get a better-paying job--blames his unsatisfying career on his father, whom he believed needed care and money in his dotage. But Walter, though outwardly a success, suffered a nervous breakdown as he confronted some deeper truths about the family's past.

Miller's master stroke here may be the creation of an 80-year-old furniture appraiser named Gregory Solomon, who in Jack Axelrod's amusing and beautifully apt portrayal bears an uncanny resemblance to the aged Sigmund Freud. On the face of it, Solomon is a funny old Jewish merchant with a thick German accent and an inimitable bargaining style, but he is also, on a more disturbing level, a stand-in for the Franz brothers' deceased father.

The tentative Chalon is the weak link in an otherwise strong cast under Shashin Desai's direction. Another plus is Bradley Kaye's set, which establishes the perfect mood amid its piles of credible clutter.

* "The Price," International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 12. (310) 420-4128. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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