Arthur Miller’s The Price – Pithy and Well Realized
49: 8- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–
Fifty year-old Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) is a cop. Entering what used to be his home, dispensing with jacket and firearm, he removes sheets from fine old furniture, picks up paraphernalia- a long oar, a fencing sword, tries the old radio and wind-up phonograph- on which we hear a 1920s laugh track. Above him, Derek McLane’s wonderful set suspends heavy, period furniture as if it were decorative molding on steroids.
Slowly, Victor circumnavigates the crowded, dusty room reacting to memories. One can almost see him think. The place has sat empty since the death of his father, a man whom he cared for and supported, sacrificing personal aspirations. Were it not for the building being torn down, all we see might remain in perpetual stasis.
The amount of time given to perusal is generous, effective, and rather brave. We feel the weight of history and Victor’s attachment. There’s isn’t a cough or rustle in the theater.
Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo
Victor’s wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) joins him. She finds the apartment depressing, but feels it necessary to goose her husband both into getting the absolute best price from a furniture dealer on the way, and keeping the money, rather than splitting it with his estranged brother, Walter (Tony Shaloub), a well heeled doctor. This is a housewife suffering from empty nest syndrome, one who didn’t bargain for as small and mediocre life as she feels she’s enduring. “Everything was always temporary with us. You should’ve gotten out during the war.” Victor had planned to be a scientist.
In what seems the to-date highlight of his career, Danny DeVito veritably inhabits Solomon, the 90 year-old, semi-retired furniture dealer whose name Victor got from the phone book. Esther is suspicious. “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated,” he retorts with good humor as the men bid her goodbye.
Solomon is a gregarious salesman. Everything elicits a story, an explanation, a defense, an excuse. He talks about relative value, unpopular eras, oversized scale of gracious pieces, their aura of permanence. “A man gets married, sits at this table; he knows he’s gotta stay married.” Victor has trouble pinning the agent down to an offer. The arrangement is all or nothing. Itemization implies otherwise. Still, he has a soft spot for the old man and can’t help but being amused by knowledgeable spin, not to mention tidbits about Solomon’s own colorful life.
Mark Ruffalo, Danny DiVito
At one point, the dealer takes a hard boiled egg out of his briefcase and eats it. It’s sheer vaudeville. He answers Victor slightly spitting egg, chokes a bit, and swigs from a silver flask, never breaking stride. Ruffalo looks at DiVito with deep appreciation. It brings to mind The Carol Burnett Show, whose production team actually allowed the company to crack each other up on camera. Here, things are kept in appropriate check, though laughter feels imminent. Both actors are marvelous.
Just as cash is changing hands, Walter unexpectedly arrives suspending the sale. Victor practically backs away. He can’t let go of the difficult, deeply resented past in which Walter seems to have shaped his brother’s future. Facts and motivation conflict. Denial spurts like errant geysers, precursor to eruption.
The Price is heady and dense. Playwright Arthur Miller explores the complex, fallible nature of his beautifully drawn characters (humanity) and long term consequences of decisions that seemed axiomatic when made. Though not without humor, the drama seriously addresses one’s relationship with one’s self, others subject to fallout. A context that might easily evoke judgment abstains.
Danny DiVito, Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
The whiz bang company unfailingly balance one another. Tony Shaloub (Walter) is so forceful and charismatic when quick-changing tacks, uncertainty about his intentions never abates. Jessica Hecht’s portrayal of Esther makes the backbone of her marriage believable even after play-long discontent, prodding, and even threats.
Mark Ruffalo’s naturalistic performance is immensely nuanced. Small gestures and expressions speak volumes. The actor fully occupies his character even in silence. We’re made to feel Victor’s wrenching internal battle which encompasses not only the pivotal earlier decision, but taking a stand that must powerfully affect life going forward. That which Ruffalo holds in is as palpably potent as his outbursts.
Danny DiVito’s Solomon captivates. Walking a fine line between amusing attributes and credibility, DiVito never grows too broad. Miller gives us a familiar type, but the actor brings him to quirky and specific life. Comic timing is impeccable.
Director Terry Kinney does a masterful job in regulating the ebb and flow of emotion. Everyone has his/her own reaction timing. Small business and use of the staging area seem character instinctive. Kinney’s opening is inspired. Periodic use of room elements – visualize Danny DiVito stuck holding an oar five times his height – is wry, yet never inappropriate.
Derek McLane’s excellent set pairs adjacent water towers and an expanse of backdrop sky with the terrifically appointed room.
This is an extremely satisfying production of a superb play.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Arthur Miller’s The Price
Directed by Terry Kinney
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street