Left - Pip Miller and Carmel Johnson. Photo - Shane Reid
What Price unresolved resentment, un-dispelled illusions, rationalisations, excuses and self deception?
Arthur Miller was a consummate playwright and observer of the frustrations of the human condition. This production of one of his finest plays by the SA State Theatre Company more than does it justice.
In the very first scene, before a word is spoken, a twang on an out of tune harp string portends the tension and discord to follow. The Price paid by the two major protagonists: brothers Victor and Walter Franz (Michael Habib and Pip Miller) for their ambitions and sacrifices is then tantalisingly unravelled, as they meet after sixteen years of estrangement to dispose of their dead father’s furniture and chattels.
The Price paid by Victor’s wife Esther (Carmel Johnson) is also made apparent as she discovers the deception and resentments she has both harboured and had inflicted on her - and worn - over the years.
Enter the 89 year old eccentric Jewish assessor, brilliantly portrayed by Dennis Olsen, into this dynamic, who attempts to offer a Price for the furniture and effects of the deceased father, who to some extent was responsible for the mess. With some comic relief, he provides a commentary on the tangled web the family has woven, and ends up literally having the last laugh. His convincing and unflinching characterisation is an object lesson to any aspiring thespian.
Habib’s portrayal of the frustrated and inertia-bound Victor is also very competent, even if his accent was not 100% consistent. His fear of moving, and his reluctant comfort in perseveration of blame and suspicion of decency are well shown in his on-again-off-again inability to face retirement – or anything else for that matter, as he languishes in the humdrum life of a policeman instead of the great scientist he could have been.
Miller as Walter, the “successful” brother also shows the Price paid for that success, with skill and consistency, hinting at and describing the rough road he has trod, trying to build a bridge to his estranged brother who can’t meet him. Meanwhile Johnson is equally convincing as the wife who discovers the depth of the deceit she has been surrounded with, and the awful Price she has paid for her loyalty to a family made up of men who have invented themselves “to wipe out what we know”.
Adam Cook’s direction is tight, and the set by Ailsa Paterson is superb. From cracked and crumbling lath and plaster ceiling to the individual floor boards of a building about to be demolished, it provides a poignant setting for the resentments and enmities that are piled up in the protagonists like the dusty old furniture that is piled to the ceiling all around the room.
Not a light play but a thoughtful and challenging one, this is an excellent production, beautifully conceived, designed and acted. It is a feather in the cap of the STC and should not be missed. Get a ticket and go. It is well worth The Price.
State Theatre Company SA presents
by Arthur Miller
Director Adam Cook
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 23 April – 16 May 2010