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Arthur Miller's The Price

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Three Stars


Photo by Joan Marcus
Mark Ruffalo & Danny DeVito in Arthur Miller's The Price
Mark Ruffalo & Danny DeVito in Arthur Miller's The Price
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Review by Tulis McCall
March 24, 2017

The Price by Arthur Miller, now at the American Airlines Theatre as a Roundabout Theatre production, is no stroll in the park. The year is 1968. Two brothers who have not seen one another in 16 years are plonked together in the attic of their old home, a brownstone in Manhattan. In this attic is the detritus of their father’s life, and because the building is about to be demolished they are finally facing how to let go of it all. And I don’t mean just the furniture. There are, as is always the case with sibling estrangement, a lot of reasons why these two have not spoken, and with a second-hand furniture dealer on hand to throw gasoline on the smoldering coals – there are explosions aplenty. As we knew there would be from the moment the curtain goes up. No surprises here.

Here is what we don’t anticipate – The Danny DeVito Show. Or as I like to call it: The Danny DeVito Show. As Solomon (named after the wise king?) he enters the catacomb that the attic has become and shines a light where no light has been for over a decade – and where it is not welcome. DeVito is determined and brilliant. This is a performance that crackles. In comparison to him, all the other actors seem like they are once-removed, as if they were under water. It is a startling contrast.

Victor (Mark Ruffalo) has been a cop for nearly 30 years. Back when his father had been destroyed by the Great Depression, Victor chose to forgo college and science in order to become a cop and support his old man. His brother Walter (Tony Shaloub) went to medical school without a second glance. The two brothers resented each other’s choice back then and ever since. Victor is approaching retirement age (50) and his wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) would love him to leave the Force and find something to do that he loves. Something that would make him happy so that she could be happy. Esther is not the type of woman to get happy on her own. Because they have not heard from or seen Walter in over 16 years, and because he has not returned Victor’s recent phone calls, Esther is of the opinion that Victor can take all the money from the sale and buy the two of them some happiness.

When Sol makes it to the top of the stairs, a long climb for a 90 year old man, Victor and Esther’s encampment is thrown ass over teakettle. What was to be a straight forward deal becomes a rambling tour of Sol’s life and Victor’s attic. While Victor keeps pulling Sol toward naming a price for everything – and there is a boatload of everything on that stage – Sol keeps eluding his grasp. Victor is thinking about money so he can avoid thinking about life. Sol is thinking about life in order to avoid thinking about money.

Sol: …"the price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint, and if you wouldn’t understand the viewpoint it's impossible to understand the price." The problem with second-hand furniture, Sol tells Victor, is that it never breaks. "…if it wouldn’t break there is no more possibilities.
For instance, you take—this table... You can’t move it. A man sits down to such a table he knows not only he’s married, he’s got to stay married—there is no more possibilities."

And that, my friends, is the core of this play wrapped up and tied with a bow. Sol has more to tell and he does it (in spite of his accent that cannot seem to decide what it wants to be) with a schmear of whatever flotsam is on hand. So in charge of the first act is Sol that when Walter shows up, just as Sol and Victor are completing the sale, in his camel-hair coat and impeccably tailored suit it is almost as if he has walked into the wrong play.

Indeed, the second act works out pretty much that way. Hard to say if it is the writing or the performances, but everyone felt out of sorts. I know the characters are supposed to feel like they have sand in their swim suits, but the actors appeared to feel that way. In addition, the script calls for Sol to go lie down in the bedroom because he is not helping the conversation. As Walter begins to assert himself and insert himself, Sol reacts like a guy who just got his finger caught in a door jamb. Not happy and very loud. He is banished to the bedroom, a very odd stage direction, while the two brothers try to work it out.

They never do, of course, which we know from the start. Old laundry is dragged out. Secrets revealed. Shame exposed. Wounds picked at. The whole shebang. For this writer it was uneventful bordering on confusing – this is the part where the actors felt out of sync and the blocking was awkward.

When all was said and done we were, thankfully, left with DeVito alone onstage, listening to an old record and laughing in the spotlight. Which is kind of where he was all along, because this way the only guy willing to pay the price he named.

And not for nothin’ but the script says the location is an attic in a brownstone. This glorious set by Derek McLane took up most of the stage, and was the size of a brownstone the way that an elephant is the size of a carton of milk. It was huge beyond imagining. These people are supposed to be piled on top of one another emotionally and physically. In this production they had to do a fair amount of hiking just to get close enough to be in someone’s way. That is way too much work.

(Tulis McCall)


What the popular press said...

"Sympathetically directed and ardently acted, there’s much to enjoy in this Roundabout Theater Company revival... Yet it shows 'The Price' as a smaller, more stolid work than it wants to be — still just a little out of style."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times

"A new Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theatre that can’t mask the play’s weaknesses but compensates a bit with some strong acting."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"The play touches on some of the same concerns as Miller’s more famous works—loyalty, sacrifice, family mythology. stubborn men with forbearing wives—but in one long scene on a single set, performed by just four actors. Such economy, however, poses a challenge; it requires a level of focus that Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, directed by Terry Kinney, only sometimes delivers."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

"It's not quite Arthur Miller's best, but given the playwright's tremendous gifts, 'The Price' is still a compelling drama and one that's, uncharacteristically for Miller, loaded with humor."
Roma Torre for NY1

"Bolstered by a first-rate cast, director Terry Kinney's carefully considered production for Roundabout Theatre Company shapes all sides of the arguments into compelling drama."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

"Let’s just say that the dramatic themes and human conflicts are timeless. Terry Kinney, a founding member of Steppenwolf Theater, directs a superlative cast consisting of Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht, and Danny DeVito, who make this revival a treasured experience."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - Time Out - NY1 - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

Production Details
Venue: American Airlines Theatre
Genre: Drama
Previewed: 16 Feb 2017
Opened: 16 Mar 2017
Closed: 14 May 2017
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Terry Kinney

Synopsis: When the Great Depression cost his family their fortune, Victor Franz gave up his dream of an education to support his father. Three decades later, Victor has returned to his childhood home to sell the remainder of his parents' estate. His wife, his estranged brother, and the wily furniture dealer hired to appraise their possessions all arrive with their own agendas, forcing Victor to confront a question, long-stifled, about the value of his sacrifice. Arthur Miller's The Price is a riveting story about the struggle to make peace with the past and create hope for the future.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo (Victor Franz), Tony Shalhoub (Walter Franz), Jessica Hecht (Esther Franz) and Danny DeVito (Gregory Solomon)

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