From Artistic Director Ari Roth
There is something to be said for looking back at our past with both fierceness and forgiveness; with candor, yet free from the cold, clinical distance of the estranged. It is with feeling and fealty to the family that the Franz brothers of Arthur Miller’s The Price plumb the depths of their own history to uncover truths about their father; about the fraudulence (and enduring integrity) of their own values; about the mythologies of meaning that have dictated so many personal decisions. The Price, in many ways, is Miller’s own Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the most intimate, tightly focused family play he would ever write, full of epiphanies and discoveries of self born of looking into the heart of despair. And yet, very different from O’Neill’s penultimate triumph, The Price falls right in the middle of Miller’s career, some 19 years after Death of a Salesman, with a good three-and-a-half decades left in a rich, long life of artistic productivity.
The Price, first staged in 1968, was a bit out of step with the tenor of its anti-war times. Yet who could know at the time what a remarkably revealing personal document (however disguised) this play was to become? Only recently have we learned that The Price was Miller’s first play to be written after the birth of a son he never talked about; never tended to; a Down Syndrome child whom, according to Vanity Fair’s Suzanna Andrews, “he deleted from his life.” Within days of his birth, the child, Daniel, was “placed in a home for infants in New York City.” Andrews writes, “When he was about two or three, one friend recalls, Inge [Morath, Miller’s third wife] tried to bring him home, but Arthur would not have it. Daniel was about four when he was placed at the Southbury Training School in Roxbury, Connecticut.” According to the writer Francine du Plessix Gray, “Inge told me that she went to see him almost every Sunday, but that [Arthur] never wanted to” and never did.
The Price, written directly out of this experience, tells something of a parallel tale. It builds the case both for and against a successful professional turning his back on a family member for whom he might be expected to feel responsibility. It examines the compulsion of another family member who chooses to tend to that same loved one at the cost of personal goals. Miller’s actions as a father surely should be viewed within the context of his times; our sensitivities to the disabled were clearly not as developed half a century ago. So Miller acted in concert with his times, and wrote within them as well. As in his epic apologia After The Fall, staged in 1964 and written after the demise of his second marriage, to Marilyn Monroe, Miller posits both an explanation for walking away from a person in need, and an indictment of it. Miller’s personal and public politics by the late 1960’s become increasingly complicated which, in the case of The Price, is to say that they are more and more human, laced with contradiction. The Miller teleology that emerges in The Price is full of understanding for both sides of the moral responsibility divide. Miller creates a resolution to the family drama so life-like that it might not even feel like resolution at all! The brothers peal back layers of recrimination, but is their relationship the richer for it? Are we as theater-goers made the wiser for watching this haggling over a price to be paid; over brothers who’ve chosen their respective destinies? The brothers, like us, are transformed by new awareness. But life has exacted a toll.
We certainly know that we’re the richer for hosting Robert Prosky and his sons in this deeply felt production. Bob won a Helen Hayes Award for his performance the last time he played this role at Arena Stage. Now he brings Gregory Solomon –perhaps the most ebullient Jewish character Miller ever created–to Theater J so we can shine special light on the achievements of this most unique creation. We’re here as witnesses to a history, and to the making of a little theater history, paying attention to the history of a play, its maker, and the past it so pointedly exhumes.