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The Price

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


The Price

Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Decisions, dissembling, consequences and family -- this is the meat in Arthur Miller plays.  Directed by Terry Kinney, the Roundabout production of The Price has a universality as distinct in the 21st century as it was in 1968, featuring a stunning cast of Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito. 

The play is set in the dusty attic of a brownstone about to be torn down.  Derek McLane designed a fascinating set crammed with assorted memories of a family home -- overstuffed chairs, glass-front bookshelves, rolled up rugs, an imposing dining room table, a harp, a windup Victrola and some few scratchy '78's.  As David Weiner's lighting pans over the ten rooms of furnishings packed in one attic, he snaps a photo of a comfortable life that collapsed with the stock market in 1929.  The Franz family lost its money and lifestyle and the two sons chose different paths. Victor (Mark Ruffalo) dropped out of college, became a New York City patrolman and supported his father while his older brother, Walter (Tony Shaloub), finished medical school. Now, about to sell all their possessions that have been stored in the attic, they will face the consequences of decisions made.

Victor, in his uniform is first to arrive, poking around, putting on a few records as he waits for the furniture dealer.  He remembers that "The Laughing Record," was popular at parties with laughter that gets increasingly louder until listeners begin laughing along.  When his wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht) arrives, she looks around with distain.  She always hated this house, blaming the successful Walter for Victor's sacrifice, commenting, "It’s like we never were anything, we were always about-to-be." She urges Victor to take his pension and sell the furnishings for a good price so they can begin living a better life.  Victor wants to split the money with his estranged older brother.

In comes Gregory Solomon up the stairs, a 90-year-old retired furniture dealer, wheezing and coughing.  In his Broadway debut, Danny DeVito holds the stage effortlessly, using wiliness, old-time Jewish wisdom, and shrewd timing to make the end point, a price they cannot resist.   

Solomon is a master wheeler-dealer.  “With used furniture you cannot be emotional,” he says.  He slams his hand on the dining room table. “You can’t move it... What is the key word today?—Disposable."  The heavy, well-made table is not disposable and thus, for Solomon, worth nothing.  "This stuff is from another world. So I’m trying to give you a modern viewpoint. Because 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."

They are about to close the deal when Walter arrives and the play picks up speed.  Costume designer, Sarah J. Holder, distinguishes the two brothers by their clothes, Walter's pricey camel's hair coat and Victor's rumpled uniform.  Director Terry Kinney carves out the arguments that define both brothers and the American social ethos. The brothers, under the blanket of discussing Solomon's offer, trade accusations of the losses each paid for their lives and the consequences suffered. 

The cast is strong.  As Walter, Tony Shaloub directs shifting attitudes toward Victor, revealing much about his own failures.  With a secretive half-smile, he regards his brother with self-righteousness but also misgivings and an offer of atonement.  He lets Victor know that he sacrificed his future for their manipulative father.

Playing Victor, Ruffalo's mumbling delivery seems affected and unsure but as the play progresses, tension and passion builds into the clash that has to come.  Past compromise, Victor tells Walter, 'You can’t walk in with one splash and wash out twenty-eight years. There’s a price people pay. I’ve paid it, it’s all gone, I haven’t got it anymore. Just like you paid, didn’t you?" 

As Esther, Hecht, despite a fluctuating accent, communicates Esther's disappointments and need for a better life.  This is poignantly clear when she leaves to pick up Victor's good suit from the cleaner's so he can change out of his policeman's uniform and dress up for their modest evening of dinner and a movie.  When Walter makes his offer of conciliation, she is torn between loyalty to her husband and clutching at the possibility of more money and prestige.  The values shift in endless circles.

And Danny DeVito, welcome to Broadway.  He has stage presence, comic skill and detailed characterization. As the play ends, the estranged brothers are gone and Solomon is left with the cache of furniture.  He puts on the "Laughing Record," and starts laughing until his eyes fill with tears.  The Price has a lot to say about the folly of family conflicts and Solomon has seen it all. 

The Price
American Airlines Theatre
227-West 42 Street, NYC
Previews: Feb. 16, 2017.  Opened: Mar. 16, 2017. Closing: May 7, 2017
Running time: 2 hrs. 30 mins. One intermission.
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Terry Kinney

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
March 2017

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