Friday, March 17, 2017

Broadway Review—Arthur Miller’s “The Price”

Arthur Miller’s The Price
Written by Arthur Miller; directed by Terry Kinney
Opened March 16, 2017
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub in Arthur Miller's The Price (photo: Joan Marcus)

Arthur Miller chronicled psychologically messy families, as the estranged brothers locking horns in The Price characteristically demonstrate. It’s surprising that The Price has been relegated to the bottom drawer of Miller’s plays, as warhorses like The Crucible, A View from the Bridge and Death of a Salesman are trotted out regularly; its quartet of juicy roles and dramatically enclosed space keep up the intensity level for over two hours, however contrived the basic situation.

The Frantz brothers are Victor, a 28-year New York City beat cop who hasn’t yet decided to retire, to the consternation of his bemused but loving wife Esther; and Walter, a successful surgeon who hasn’t had contact with his younger brother in 16 years, since their father died. Now that the enormous amount of bric-a-brac in the family home is about to be sold off prior to the building’s demolition, the brothers reunite for an uneasy tête-à-tête—attended to by 89-year-old Gregory Solomon, an antiques appraiser who becomes a sardonic commentator on the action—in which they painfully bat around what happened years ago that led to their estrangement and dealing with memories of their parents, particularly their father. Secrets are shared, and revelations are made.

Miller could write dramatically conventional but gripping confrontations in his sleep, and there are moments in The Price when it seems he did—notably Esther’s predictable shifts of allegiance between her wearying husband and his accomplished but slippery brother—but the back-and-forth between the brothers is heated and soul-baring throughout, as in this exchange about the price Victor paid while caring for their dad in his old age:

VICTOR: It’s all pointless! The whole thing doesn’t matter to me!
WALTER: He exploited you! Doesn’t that matter to you?
VICTOR: Let’s get one thing straight, Walter—I am nobody’s victim.
WALTER: But that’s exactly what I’ve tried to tell you—I’m not trying to condescend.
VICTOR: Of course you are. Would you be saying any of this if I’d made a pile of money somewhere?  I’m sorry, Walter, I can’t take that—I made no choice; the icebox was empty and the man was sitting there with his mouth open. I didn’t start this, Walter, and the whole thing doesn’t interest me, but when you talk about making choices, and I should have gone on with science, I have to say something—just because you want things a certain way doesn’t make them that way.
WALTER: All right then. How do you see it?

Of course, it helps to have actors able to tear into these meaty parts, and Terry Kinney—who directs with unobtrusive sympathy on Derek McLane’s spacious set cluttered with furniture and items doubling as symbols, like the centerstage harp and a fencing foil—has them in spades. Danny DeVito is a riotous Greek chorus as the aptly-named Solomon, and Jessica Hecht—usually an excessively mannered actress—keeps her affected line readings to a minimum, even if Esther’s New Yawk accent is straight out of Edith Bunker.

Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub present a dizzying contrast in techniques. Ruffalo’s world-weary, run-down Victor finds its finest expression in the actor’s shambling stage presence, while the swaggering Shaloub—dapper in his impeccably tailored suit—flaunts Walter’s wealth and prestige even as the ghosts of the Frantz family’s past rise up to put the brothers’ own memories into question. Their head-butting never becomes fatiguing, which makes The Price—despite its flaws—heartening and, ultimately, poignant.

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