Sibling relationships are frequently the longest intimate relationship of a person’s life. Brothers and sisters share memories about each other’s childhoods, and are likely to remember each other’s past from common and relatable vantage points. Parents, understandably, are prone to remember their children’s past from a more mature but inherently different viewpoint.
As a result, sibling bonds inevitably shape personality and mindset, and the complex dynamics of sibling roles and relationships are frequently a meaningful dimension of the process of psychotherapy.
Arthur Miller’s play, The Price, offers a rich and emotionally raw account of two estranged brothers who reunite to try to sell their long-deceased parents’ furniture. The furniture has been in storage for quite some time, but the storage space is being sold. The scores of antiques that have been savored in storage frame the stage and function as a metaphor for the human need to hold onto the past, whatever the price. The dense dialogue infuses the story with psychologically provocative conversations and life reflections that illuminate how each brother’s perception of family dynamics and sibling roles have shaped their respective destinies.
Three-time Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo plays protagonist Victor Franz, a disillusioned cop who struggles with the sense that he cannot measure up to his brother’s (Tony Shalhoub) professional success. His phone calls go routinely un-returned by his busy brother, and even Victor’s wife (Jessica Hecht), seems wowed by his brother’s fine clothing and his air of privilege and financial security. As they haggle with the furniture appraiser (Danny DeVito), an inherent, long-standing sibling rivalry is revealed.
The dialogue unfolds, and the characters are willing to voice feelings and thoughts that clarify to the audience how two children can grow up in the same home, but process and remember the past in vastly different ways. Consciously or unconsciously, all siblings compete for their parents’ love, attention and approval. And siblings are bound to hold diverse interpretations of their histories. One important takeaway from this intense play is how important it is to try to avoid estrangement if possible, and to prioritize open and honest conversations with siblings and intimate family members.
The Price was first staged in 1968 and is currently running until May 7th at the American Airlines Theater. It is considered one of Arthur Miller’s most significant plays and is also available in paperback.