Review: The Price

by Jane

The Price
by Arthur Miller
Directed by Adam Cook
Presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia

Pip Miller and Michael Habib showing they can act with a concerned face.

Moving away from the involved, complex pieces Adam Cook directed at the State Theatre Company in 2009 (both brilliantly directed – Mnemonic a work of art, and King Lear explosively amazing), Cook’s fist show for 2010 is a much quieter and subtler affair, with just four characters, a single room and a plot which happens in real-time.

Arthur Miller’s The Price is unmistakably set in New York City of the ‘60s.  I sometimes come out of plays thinking, “why did they even bother putting on those accents?”, but there is no way this dialogue would work without the heavy New Yarwk accent.  While not perfect, nor perfectly consistent, for the most part they were carried by the cast just fine, who were all solid in their roles and character’s development.

The set from Ailsa Paterson is stunning.  STC, you really know how to pick your designers.   It was just amazing.  Hundreds of pieces of furniture piled high upon each other, one after another, and leaning almost quite precariously.    The wooden floorboards of the attic extended out past the edge of the stage, creating the illusion of a room much larger than the stage allowed, and the pealing plaster roof held just the right amount of weariness.  Lighting from Mark Pennington was used to show the progression of dusk through the window, although that did leave me wondering, if the sun is setting towards the rear of the stage, what is lighting the cast and set from the front?

I do wonder why a chandelier is strung in the attic.

It’s a very quiet script, while there are moments of high tension and argument, four older people arguing in an attic isn’t always the most intriguing.   Also, it seemed to me that Miller only ever wanted one actor to be holding the balance of power – one person could take charge, while the others meekly took it – so a lot of the tension which could’ve been in the situation was lost.

To be completely honest, it just wasn’t the sort of play I was in the mood for that night.  I wanted something high strung and challenging, and I know that clouded my opinions of the play, so I came out thinking, that was nice and I’m very glad to have seen it, but I didn’t feel completely fulfilled.   And the first act was quite boring, good thing it was followed by act two.

Of course, being very tired and taking full advantage of the open bar (STC, you should cancel fundraisers I’m planning on attending more often) didn’t help me appreciate all the subtleties of the script and direction, and I rather feel I was a tad behind the eight ball at times.  Oh well, I chose to substitute one way of having a brilliant night with another and I don’t regret that at all!

I love that it *looks* like it was plucked from a theatre in 1968.

While, unlike many reviewers, I’m not advocating this as something must-see, rush-out, buy-your-tickets now, it was a fine way to spend a few hours.  And maybe, even if I’d been in the mood, if I wasn’t tired, if I wasn’t drinking, I would be saying “rush out”, but then again, I might feel exactly the same.     For me, in the end, the play served as a very interesting look into the New York and Arthur Miller of the late 1960s: primarily a historic look at theatre, rather than a piece I fully appreciated outside of that context.   Well, who says I need to appreciate it outside that context?

The Price plays at the Dunstan Playhouse until May 16th.

As a side note: I was somewhat shocked to hear David Mealor was the Assistant Director on this play.  I think Mealor is a brilliant director, whose True West was the best production I saw in Adelaide last year, and I spent a good deal of the lead up to this year’s Fringe saying it was the must-see show.   It is great that he is getting work with the State Theatre Company, and I have a huge brain-crush on Cook’s direction and think it would be amazing to work with him, and I really don’t know much about the progression of a director’s career at all, but, certainly from the little I’ve seen, Mealor is a great director, too, and I hope we’ll see him direct on his own accord at the STC soon.  In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting his Blackbird later in the year, even if I have yet to be taken by playwright David Harrower.

At the Dunstan Playhouse until May 16th.