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Arthur Miller’s The Price

Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Watch, Read, Listen

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Rory McGregor

 

Arthur Miller is a playwright who needs no introduction. One of the great American playwrights of the Twentieth Century, his canon, which is stock full of classics, includes All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955). Tony Award nominated Arthur Miller’s The Price which received its premiere in 1968 remains a lesser known play of Miller’s work, but it is a taught and electrifying family drama which blows open our relationship to money and to each other. Our revival at the American Airlines stars Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny Devito. Terry Kinney directs one of Arthur Miller’s most personal plays; a riveting story about the struggle to make peace with the past and create hope for the future. Join us for another installment of To Read/Watch/Listen and delve further into the world of the play.

 

TO WATCH

Arthur Miller on Charlie Rose (1992)

Fancy getting to know one of the great American minds of play writing a little better? You can’t go wrong with this 1992 interview that Miller had with Charlie Rose where the conversation explores the full range of Miller’s work. Delve into Miller’s brain in this truly insightful interview.

Crash Course History

Arthur Miller’s The Price is a play steeped in history. It was written and opened in 1968, at the end of an era full of promise, of hope and change. However, the final year of the era, 1969, is famous for being fraught with uncertainty, loss of belief in the system and despair. With the Tet Offensive, the American people for the first time learnt that they were not winning the Vietnam War, both Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and there were protests and rioting all across the country. The desire for economic stability that some of the characters in The Price therefore are understandable, as the country was going through these massive structural changes.

On top of this, the spectre of the Great Depression runs deep in this play, Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) makes many references to his fear that his father was going to fall into financial distress as a result of the Great Depression, and sacrificed his dreams so he could support him.

If you need a quick refresher on either the context of the Sixties or to get more information about the Great Depression, you can’t really do better than the ‘Crash Course’ history video series.  Short, informative but grossly entertaining too, John Green (better known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars) hosts these quick bite-sized history videos. Worth a watch!

 

TO READ/LISTEN

‘Are You Now or Were You Ever?’

As Miller describes in his interview with Charlie Rose, there is a moral backbone to all of his work, and it can most definitely be felt in The Price. He believed that it was the playwright’s duty to hold society accountable to some degree. The most prominent example of where his personal and professional life overlapped was with the House of Un-American Activities. In this article which was published in the Guardian in 2000, Miller describes the wave of Anti-Communism that swept through America in the 1950s, and how it destroyed his friendship and professional relationship with the noted director Elia Kazan.

The OKeh Laughing Record (1922)

Perhaps somewhat unsettling and unusual to modern audiences, Victor comes across a record at the beginning of the play of two people laughing seemingly naturally and uncontrollably. It seems strange and somewhat unbelievable to us today that someone would pay for a record of people just laughing, but it was a fad that caught on in the 20s and actually saw a resurgence in subsequent decades. The original recording of two people laughing was the OKeh Laughing Record of 1922, which spawned many copycats and they even released records of other human functions, such as a coughing record and even a record where someone uncontrollably sobbed. For more information on the history of this fascinating historical object, read more on the Library of Congress’ page.

 


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price


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Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Interview with Director Terry Kinney

Posted on: March 20th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Terry Kinney

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? How did you become an actor and a director in the theatre? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?
Terry Kinney: I grew up in a town called Lincoln, Illinois, which is in central Illinois near the state capitol of Springfield. There was not much exposure to theatre in Lincoln. I was peripherally involved in theatre until I went to Illinois State. I went in as a psychology major. But on the first day of school, someone told me they were handing out tuition waivers if you had an audition piece. I had one monologue semi-memorized from my speech team days, so I went to the tryouts and I got in. This was a fairly new department at the time. It had about 280 undergrads and 100 graduate students. They were all very serious about theatre, and that’s where I met John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Perry. The training there was really just doing plays. They kept the theatre open 24 hours a day and you could rehearse and put on shows on the weekend, which became the impetus for us starting Steppenwolf Theatre after we graduated. The teachers there were all remarkable and had a great influence on me. Most notably, Calvin Pritner taught me a lot about acting and spoke not only about objectives, but also really stressed “given circumstances.” He had a very straightforward approach toward it. He used a lot of baseball metaphors. I had a directing teacher named Don LaCasse, who was integral in helping me understand how to take apart a play before I started working on it. He also taught me how to do a deep analysis of the architecture of a play and common sense blocking.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Arthur Miller’s The Price? Does the play have personal resonance for you?
TK: Miller has always been my favorite American playwright, and The Price has always been very special to me since the first time I read it. I thought it was so different from many of Miller’s other plays. It seemed more personal. It felt like he was writing about his own life. I had no evidence of that, and in fact Miller has denied it, but it’s what I felt. Having a brother and older parents, the play has become more and more important to me. Every time I read it, it still moves me deeply. It makes me wonder about the aspects of our memories, and how we fashion ourselves into the protagonists of our own life stories. How we assign villains in our lives. How things that we can’t take responsibility for, we assign to others. That metaphor resonates with me greatly and always has.

Photo by Joan Marcus

TS: How did you prepare to direct this play? Can you give us some insight into your process?
TK: When actors get in a rehearsal room, everything changes, and I like to allow for that. I really want ideas to flow, and that will dictate the direction of where we take the story. On the other hand, I prepare a lot. I try to do exhaustive research, you know, the time period, all that entails. I might let go of some of my preparation once we’re all together, but I’ll hang on to some of it. I inform myself by reading the play obsessively. I read it over and over to the point where I really know what’s going to be on the next page. I don’t pre-block a great deal because I don’t want to lay that on the actors. I usually have a clear notion of how I want to stage it, but the marriage of my ideas and the actors’ impulses is what make a production far more nuanced and richer. The design elements — the set, the lights, the sound and composition of music — all of that goes into the preparation of any piece I direct. I would say the preparation I do is thorough, but it’s also open. It’s open to changes that will naturally develop.

TS: How do you understand the relationship between Victor and his brother Walter?
TK: It’s like a lot of sibling relationships. Their perceptions of how their family operated and how they fit into that family — who they were to each other — has a lot of personal stinging truth and also a lot of fabrication. I’m talking about the kind of memories that you fabricate to protect yourself from your own responsibilities. These two guys are estranged because neither of them have the courage to face what really happened to their family. It was awful, and they had opposite impulses of how to deal with it. Victor martyred himself and has never been able to admit that he did it because of how he felt about himself. He was convinced it was his destiny. He sees himself as a loser. Walter, on the other hand, had a great deal of ambition. He wanted to feel free to make his own choices, and he wanted to be free from responsibility for his father and brother. Everything in that part of Walter’s nature aided him until he broke down. After his breakdown, he continues to struggle with his old nature and has a great deal of anxiety because of it.

TS: I also want to ask about the marriage between Esther and Victor. Do you think that it’s a healthy marriage?
TK: I think it’s a complicated marriage as so many marriages are. It’s been a long-term marriage with not a lot of money, and you know how that is. Esther has wanted enough money to feel comfortable and happy, the way she imagines others feel. She thinks that money will fix things, and she’s turned to alcohol to assuage her disappointments. They love each other a lot, and they don’t communicate very effectively anymore because they see the world quite differently. They put a lot of energy into their son, Richard, but now that he’s gone out of the house, what Esther would love is to reform Victor into someone that he had the potential to be before he turned to the police force. Victor thinks it’s just too late. Do I think they are in deep trouble as a married couple? I can’t say. I think the actors will have a better idea of that. I think the way we want to play this relationship is that there is a great deal of love between them and they still wow each other when they look at each other. They still are very attracted to each other.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: What about the character of Solomon — do you think he’s in the play to remind the Franz brothers and Esther of where they came from?
TK: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think that what Miller’s doing with Solomon — and his name is no mistake — is to bring into the conflict a person who’s seen it all, who has survived it all, who keeps going, and who sees both sides. When you see both sides of an argument, you realize there is absolutely no right or no wrong. It’s all a gray area. I think Solomon knows that. I’m excited about what Danny DeVito will bring to the role.

TS: What type of actors did you need for the rest of this cast?
TK: With Victor, I wanted someone with a quiet intensity who was compelling even when he wasn’t saying anything. A man who makes you want to know what he is thinking. I wanted a good listener and someone with gravitas. I wanted a man who understands personal pain and cost. That’s a tall order, and we are so lucky to have Mark Ruffalo in the role. Walter is a character who walks in and the audience has heard so much about him that they are prepared to dislike him. Well, that’s not the way Miller saw it — he wanted both arguments to be given equal weight. I needed someone who is charming and who can access a deep well of feelings. A person who is gentle and can explain why we choose the life we choose. Tony Shalhoub has all of that depth of feeling. The character of Esther, which sometimes gets short shrift in the analysis of the play, is a woman who is patient and understanding, and yet she bristles against all the misogyny in her world. She is angered by the men in society who parse out wealth to the few that they feel deserve it. She’s a loving woman and yet very frustrated by her plight, and it requires an actress with a great deal of heart and skill. That’s why I’ve asked Jessica Hecht to play it.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to direct for the theatre?
TK: My advice is don’t let anybody talk you out of it. Hopefully, you are aware that you aren’t going to make money. Making money is not why you should be doing theatre to begin with. If you want to direct, go out and find friends and a room to do it in and direct. Nobody can really stop you from doing that. That’s how Steppenwolf Theatre was born. What we wanted was to just make art together. We were in the church basement, and nobody gave a shit.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
TK: I like truth. I like things that take me unaware, things that don’t reflect my daily life but shed light on it through metaphor and image. I’m inspired by music all the time, and I listen to a lot of it. When I work on a play, I listen to music constantly. There’s a musicality to language that’s essential to every play that I direct, and I like to find that musicality in the music I listen to. I’m inspired by everybody who is brave enough to make art because I think it requires a great deal of bravery. Every time I go to see something — whether it be theatre, opera, or the Philharmonic — I constantly find myself filled with the same wonder that I had the first time I ever saw any kind of art. I’m in awe of how they do it. I’m not the least bit jaded when I go to theatre. I’m not overly critical. I am a perpetual amateur. It serves me well to retain that status because I still find wonder in each moment that we build together as artists. When you build something and it works and everybody in the room knows it’s working — that’s just an incredible feeling.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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One of the greatest privileges of my career was working with Arthur Miller. Roundabout produced several revivals of Arthur’s plays over the years, and I can happily admit that this choice is partially because he’s quite simply one of my favorite American playwrights of all time. In fact, it would be fair to thank (or blame!) Arthur Miller for my entire career in the theatre. I can clearly remember being a kid who dreaded reading the novels I was assigned in school. And then, in junior high, I was assigned an Arthur Miller play. It made sense to me in a way no novel ever had. It was my first encounter with the kind of propulsive, morally compelling drama that I would come to learn was Arthur’s specialty. And it sent me running to join the stage crew of the next school play. From that moment on, mine has been a life in the theatre.

Arthur’s own life in the theatre continues to fascinate me. Getting to know the man in the later part of his career was eye-opening, as I watched Arthur react to his older works being revived one after another, even as he continued to write new plays. Here was a man who wrote an instant classic, Death of a Salesman, when he was only 34, and while he derived some joy from the ongoing success of that play, he was always looking forward, still striving to write another piece that might impact the world with the same ferocity. He never stopped trying to make theatre that would illuminate the current world and last well beyond it.

I see a lot of that side of Arthur in The Price. To me, this play sits on a strange border between past and future. Its characters are, in many ways, shackled to their past. Everything that happens in the play is happening less because of decisions made in the present and more because of events that occurred decades earlier, back during the Great Depression. Yet at the same time, it’s 1968, a time of incredible upheaval and forward motion in this country, and it’s clear that these people will see a great deal of change ahead. It’s this tension that makes the play so captivating, as Arthur places these figures in a situation that speaks both to their own particular moment and to the questions faced by anyone trying to reconcile their conscience with the mistakes of the past.

This production marks the first time that Roundabout is producing an Arthur Miller play without the man himself here with us, and I thank his daughter, Rebecca Miller, for that opportunity. I miss the man who, for me, went from inspiration, to legend, to friend. But I think he would be proud of Terry Kinney and his outstanding company of actors and designers. They have come together to create the kind of vibrant theatre that Arthur himself always strove for.

As always, I hope you will share your thoughts with me as you see this production of The Price. Please continue to email me throughout this season at artisticoffice@roundabouttheatre.org. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback, and I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!
Sincerely,
Todd Haimes
Artistic Director/CEO


Arthur Miller's The Price is now in previews at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, From Todd Haimes


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