Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Terry Kinney
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited
The cast of four in Arthur Miller’s “The Price” is filled with glitter: Mark Ruffalo, who has shone primarily on film; Tony Shaloub, who has won and been nominated for awards in multiple mediums; Jessica Hecht, a vibrant presence in countless productions; and Danny DeVito, for whom, surprisingly, this is a Broadway debut. Even more surprisingly, it is DeVito who scores most memorably here.
“The Price,” a Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theater, is not one of Miller’s best plays, which is why it is performed less often than “All My Sons,” “The Crucible,” and “Death of a Salesman.” Like the latter, it is about fathers and sons, as well as the kind of sibling rivalry that never gets old. The father here is long in the grave, though his favored seat is preserved and even addressed at times. (Best performance by an armchair?) His Depression-era demise is vividly recalled by the grown sons, who have reunited after many years. The time has come to sell off everything inside the home where they were raised.
Ruffalo is the focus in this two-and-a-half-hour drama, portraying the son who sacrificed a budding educational opportunity to become a New York City cop. Shaloub is the one who did get that opportunity, and became a successful physician. Hecht is Ruffalo’s wife, and DeVito is the elderly appraiser who comes to see the furniture and memorabilia–including s harp and Ruffalo’s old fencing sword–and well, offer a price.
Fortunately, Miller threw a modicum of humor into this dark and rather repetitious work. (“It’s the kind of depression I enjoy.” “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated.” “The main thing today is shopping. It’s the new salvation.”) As with all the playwright’s work, there are powerful passages. (“If they only built old hotels, I could see this selling. But they only build new ones.” ‘I’ve got 28 years to get off my back.” “We were brought up to succeed, not to take care of each other.”) But this is slow and often ponderous going: the first ten minutes consist of Ruffalo silently inspecting his old home. There are too many conversations that seem meant to upend the previous one, (No, here’s what really happened!) and every conceivable twist on the title is uttered. (“There is such a thing as a moral debt.” “You wanted a real life, and that cost.”) We get it.
As exciting as the quartet of names looks on the marquee, the performers often seem to be playing at different speeds, on different levels. Ruffalo, so dynamic on screen, is rather listless–at times it is difficult to decipher his words. Hecht is burdened with the least defined role, and Shaloub, while always magnetic, has a tough time bringing his character’s shifting sentiments to life. It is DeVito who gives us the most complete, and ultimately sympathetic, character: a man dreaming of one more sale.
While always challenging, there are ways of reimagining the works of our iconic playwrights. (One only has to walk a few blocks south to see what they’ve done with Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.) Arthur Miller’s plays are less malleable, and it takes a lot to either make them resonate today, or help us understand how they felt at the time of conception. This production, unfortunately, doesn’t do either well enough.