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Miller's Memory Bank of a Play

THE PRICE Drama by Arthur Miller. At the Criterion Center Stage Right through July 12.

THE PRICE" has stood the test of time, and the excellent Roundabout Theatre Company revival proves it. Arthur Miller's 1968 family drama retains its theatrical potency as a morality play about two estranged brothers who come together to dispose of household possessions. The setting for their un-fraternal reunion is the cluttered attic floor of the Manhattan brownstone that was once the family's home, soon to be demolished.

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In some notes on the script of "The Price," Mr. Miller specified: "A fine balance of sympathy should be maintained in the playing of the roles of [brothers] Victor and Walter.... The production must therefore withhold judgment in favor of presenting both men in all their humanity and from their own viewpoints. Actually, each has merely proved to the other what the other has known but dared not face. At the end, demanding of one another what was forfeited to time, each is left touching the structure of hi s life."

Under the sympathetic direction of John Tillinger, the meticulously balanced cast responds admirably to the Miller concept. As Victor and Walter, Hector Elizondo and Joe Spano do indeed present the brothers "in all their humanity and from their own viewpoints." And at the end, "each is left touching the structure of his life."

The past becomes an ever more significant prologue to the present as Miller reveals how policeman Victor sacrificed his own ambitions to care for his father while Walter shirked responsibilities to concentrate on becoming a successful doctor. The downside for Walter is the shambles of his personal life. Messrs. Elizondo and Spano tread a careful path through the complex denouement to the 16-year estrangement, seizing on the dramatic possibilities the playwright has provided. As Victor's wife Esther, Debr a Mooney displays the endurance - and impatience - of a mate whose husband, as she observes, made his brother's career possible.

While the conflict between the Franz brothers propels "The Price," Miller's creative powers are nowhere more theatrically - or delightfully - displayed than in the character of Gregory Solomon, the used-furniture dealer engaged to appraise and ultimately to bid on the attic contents. Eli Wallach relishes the role (and why not?). The dealer is given to his own brand of Solomonic observations: "Even from high-class people, you wouldn't believe the shenanigans.... You cannot talk reality with used furnitur e." Mr. Wallach's white-haired dealer invests such observations with a wry wisdom gained from long experience.

"The Price" is a memory bank of a play, a repository for the familial concerns and conflicts that produce apparently inevitable results. Designer John Lee Beatty has suited the setting to the mood and circumstances of the work by providing a fusty attic cluttered with once-cherished possessions.

The belongings include a harp once played by the Franz boys' mother, a massive armoire, and Victor's fencing equipment. Nothing is spared that could enhance the atmosphere of this memorable drama from the 1960s. That includes Jane Greenwood's costumes and Dennis Parichy's lighting.

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