|My review of Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Terry Kinney directs an all-star cast in a Broadway revival|
|Posted by: jesse21 01:13 pm EDT 03/16/17|
Terry Kinney is not a director who is going to mess up Arthur Miller’s The Price with high concept. Lately mid-twentieth-century drama has come under assault on Broadway. Not this time.
Mr. Kinney has staged a penetrating and straightforward production of Mr. Miller’s 1968 play with four gifted actors -- Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub -- that is absolutely gripping. He has taken a lesser-known work in the playwright’s canon and essentially asks us to consider it on a par with the better-known Death of a Salesman and All My Sons which have similar explorations of family, capitalism and the American Dream. The Price isn’t as good as those plays but, damn, this production makes a great case for its viability.
Besides that, what well might be on people’s lips following tonight’s Roundabout Theatre Company’s opening is an altogether smashing Broadway debut by Danny DeVito. He has the juicy, often comic, role of Gregory Solomon, a wily, relatively spry 89-year-old furniture appraiser. The film actor, who previously was in a successful 2012 production of The Sunshine Boys in Los Angeles and London, has superb timing, never overplays the humor and manages to be the most charismatic character on stage.
Mr. Solomon (that surname is not for nothing) arrives early in the first act to appraise the furniture in a Manhattan townhouse attic. He has been hired by Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo), a 28-year veteran of the police force, who now has to empty the contents of his long-deceased father’s home because the building has been sold by an uncle’s heirs and is slated for demolition.
As a young man, Victor showed great promise in science but decided not to go to college, and instead tend to his once well-to-do father, a man broken by losing his money in the 1929 crash. Victor’s wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht), who has been scrimping with the household expenses for years, arrives to encourage her lackadaisical husband to get a high price for the furniture.
Solomon asks Victor if he has any siblings. He does. Brother Walter (Tony Shalhoub) is a successful doctor whom he hasn’t seen in 16 years. The long-time rift is that Walter abandoned his father and brother when they were in need to pursue his own career, and later he also refused to loan Victor $500 so he could pursue his education. Solomon smells trouble and indeed Walter comes up the stairs to the attic as the curtain falls for the intermission.
The second and longer part of the play is the big argument between Victor and Walter. But rather than making Victor a ‘saint’ and Walter another ‘Willy Loman’, playwright Miller balances their debate, not without contrivances at times. All sorts of juicy family secrets are revealed, much of it having to do with the father not being honest to Victor. What emerges is that both men are riddled with regret and broken at this stage in their lives. Victor, who can retire with pension as a cop, is young enough for a second career, but he can’t seem to move forward. Walter has had a nervous breakdown and has lost interest in his career.
Of course, the play is about “the price” these men have paid for their decisions as young men as well as values that wind up expressed in monetary terms. The metaphor that weaves in-and-out is “the price” Mr. Solomon is willing to pay for the furniture. At one point he says: ''The price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint. If you don't understand the viewpoint, you don't understand the price.'' Now that line also encapsulates the essence of this play.
At first, I had trouble visually believing the Messrs. Ruffalo and Shalhoub as brothers. But that concern dissipated quickly once we discover how widely their paths in life diverged.
Mr, Ruffalo, last seen on Broadway 11 years ago in Awake and Sing!, is a perfect choice to project how a psychologically wounded man feels inside himself. He successfully expresses that torment in tone of voice and body language.
Mr. Shalhoub, recently in the successful Off Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, is particularly good at conveying Walter’s guilt belying his boasting. And the Tony-winning Ms. Hecht, who makes the most of the smallest role, is genuinely touching.
In short, this is a dream cast. And the Roundabout’s usually excellent production design is fulfilled here by Derek McLane’s detailed scenic design that places the attic space against a Manhattan skyline of water towers atop nearby buildings. The lighting by David Weiner and the costumes by Sarah J. Holden are also top rate.
The original production of The Price had a solid run of 429 performances. It was revived on Broadway previously in 1979, 1992 (also by the Roundabout) and in 1999. There was an award-winning TV version on the old Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1971. The current production goes a long way in enhancing the play’s reputation as it illuminates this Arthur Miller work as pertinent for today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
THE PRICE opens Thursday, March 16, 2017, at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York City. A Roundabout Theatre Company production. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Act I: 55 minutes. Act II: 75 minutes. Limited engagement. Tickets on sale through May 7, 2017. Link to website.
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