Review: ‘The Price’ Returns a Rarely Seen Miller Work to Broadway
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, March 23, 2017
What makes life a success?
In Arthur Miller’s The Price, which opened on Broadway recently, policeman Victor gave up his dreams and dropped out of college to care for his father, who went bust in the Depression. His brother Walter spurned the family, stayed in school, became a surgeon, and is now wealthy and respected. The two siblings have not met in sixteen years.
But measuring success is done with more than money. One brother has a long, seemingly happy marriage, and has raised a son who is doing well. The other is divorced, has children who seem lost to him, and has been institutionalized for a mental breakdown.
The choices we make, and the price we pay, are at the heart of Miller’s family drama. The scene opens on a dusty attic. Dad has died and his possessions—a massive pile of chairs and tables, a gramaphone and even a harp—must be dealt with. Victor, the cop, played by Mark Ruffalo, has arrived to remove the sheets, blow away the dust, and sell it all to Mr. Solomon, a used furniture dealer and an antique himself, played with scene-stealing verve by Danny De Vito. Victor’s wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht), joins him for some of the action, but she’s so incidental that even Mr. Solomon, who has known her for mere minutes, advises her to “leave it to the boys.”
Victor is in his policeman’s uniform, much to the distress of his wife, who wants him to change before they go to a movie later. Ruffalo looks comfortable in his cop’s costume. But when his brother Walter (Tony Shalhoub) appears, wearing a camel hair coat so stunning it should have its own billing, those policeman’s blues suddenly look awfully, well, blue.
It seems like a pretty obvious set-up: one brother sacrificed, the other succeeded. Both have regrets, both have resentments. But Miller has a few tricks up his sleeve, some revelations we don’t see coming. The argument simmers, erupts, rages, subsides. The acting, with a few quibbles (Ruffalo is heart-tugging but overdoes the mumble, De Vito’s accent comes and goes, Hecht fades into the scenery, but that’s more Miller’s fault than her own—and Tony Shalhoub is perfection, as usual) is great, but the play can sometimes feel clunky, and raises questions that threaten to derail the story. Would Victor really not know of his brother’s breakdown? Would he not have known that his father had money hidden away? And what happened to that money? If Walter cared about Victor as he claims wouldn’t he have revealed some of his secrets before this meeting in the attic?
Despite the quibbles (well, more than mere quibbles, to be honest), there’s pure joy in watching such skilled actors take us through the ins and outs of a meaty family psychodrama. Thanks to Miller’s brilliance, and the skill of director Terry Kinney, the dance is divine. And just like real life, we never really get our questions answered.
Who is the success and who is the failure? Who made the right choices, who the wrong? Can we ever escape the past? (Hint: No.) The Price explores it all, and doesn’t solve anything, thank goodness, and as much as it makes us weep, we’re left, despite ourselves, laughing at it all.
The Price presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company runs through May 7, 2017 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Terry Kinney; set design by Derek McLane; costume design by Sarah J. Holden; lighting design by Davide Weiner; sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; hair design by Tom Watson; original music by Jesse Tabish; dialect coach: Stephen Gabis; production stage manager: Bess Marie Glorioso. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht, and Danny DeVito.
Cover: Tony Shalhoub, Mark Ruffalo and Jessica Hecht in ‘The Price;’ photo: Joan Marcus.