The Price, Writers' Theatre Chicago. One can't dismiss the enormous effort Arthur Miller put into this 1968 drama. He aims to explore a family corrupted by the pressures of market capitalism by focusing on two estranged brothers, Victor and Walter, forced to revisit decades-old betrayals as they negotiate the sale of their father's estate. While Miller spends most of the first act illustrating the relatively unimportant relationship between blue-collar sad sack Victor and old-school furniture dealer Solomon, he produces dazzling trauma in the second when wealthy, ambitious Walter arrives and both brothers go for the jugular. Yet for all the passion Miller unleashes, this is a thickly written, highly contrived script working to manufacture drama rather than letting it flow from the situation's inherent conflicts.
Director David Cromer stages Miller's weighty script with a light touch, aptly avoiding melodrama as he scales down even the most self-important passages. And once again Writers' Theatre has gathered a stellar cast. Jeff Still and John Judd are exquisite foils as Victor and Walter, underplaying every emotion until they're driven to a volcanic outburst. As Victor's depressed, alcoholic wife, Lee Roy Rogers is a thrilling catastrophe waiting to happen. But stage veteran Howard Witt as Solomon owns the evening, playing Miller's text the way a virtuoso plays a musical score, finding rich, resonant tones in the simplest moments.