By Tulis McCall
The Price by Arthur Miller, now at the American Airlines Theatre as a Roundabout Theatre production, is no stroll in the park. The year is 1968. Two brothers who have not seen one another in 16 years are plonked together in the attic of their old home, a brownstone in Manhattan. In this attic is the detritus of their father’s life, and because the building is about to be demolished they are finally facing how to let go of it all. And I don’t mean just the furniture. There are, as is always the case with sibling estrangement, a lot of reasons why these two have not spoken, and with a second-hand furniture dealer on hand to throw gasoline on the smoldering coals – there are explosions aplenty. As we knew there would be from the moment the curtain goes up. No surprises here.
Here is what we don’t anticipate – The Danny DeVito Show. Or as I like to call it: The Danny DeVito Show. As Solomon (named after the wise king?) he enters the catacomb that the attic has become and shines a light where no light has been for over a decade – and where it is not welcome. DeVito is determined and brilliant. This is a performance that crackles. In comparison to him, all the other actors seem like they are once-removed, as if they were under water. It is a startling contrast.
Victor (Mark Ruffalo) has been a cop for nearly 30 years. Back when his father had been destroyed by the Great Depression, Victor chose to forgo college and science in order to become a cop and support his old man. His brother Walter (Tony Shaloub) went to medical school without a second glance. The two brothers resented each other’s choice back then and ever since. Victor is approaching retirement age (50) and his wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) would love him to leave the Force and find something to do that he loves. Something that would make him happy so that she could be happy. Esther is not the type of woman to get happy on her own. Because they have not heard from or seen Walter in over 16 years, and because he has not returned Victor’s recent phone calls, Esther is of the opinion that Victor can take all the money from the sale and buy the two of them some happiness.
When Sol makes it to the top of the stairs, a long climb for a 90 year old man, Victor and Esther’s encampment is thrown ass over teakettle. What was to be a straight forward deal becomes a rambling tour of Sol’s life and Victor’s attic. While Victor keeps pulling Sol toward naming a price for everything – and there is a boatload of everything on that stage – Sol keeps eluding his grasp. Victor is thinking about money so he can avoid thinking about life. Sol is thinking about life in order to avoid thinking about money.
Sol: … the price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint, and if you wouldn’t understand the viewpoint is impossible to understand the price. The problem with second-hand furniture, Sol tells Victor, is that it never breaks. … if it wouldn’t break there is no more possibilities.
For instance, you take—this table. . . You can’t move it. A man sits down to such a table he knows not only he’s married, he’s got to
stay married—there is no more possibilities.
And that, my friends, is the core of this play wrapped up and tied with a bow. Sol has more to tell and he does it (in sprite of his accent that cannot seem to decide what it wants to be) with a schmear of whatever flotsam is on hand. So in charge of the first act is Sol that when Walter shows up, just as Sol and Victor are completing the sale, in his camel-hair coat and impeccably tailored suit it is almost as if he has walked into the wrong play.
Indeed, the second act works out pretty much that way. Hard to say if it is the writing or the performances, but everyone felt out of sorts. I know the characters are supposed to feel like they have sand in their swim suits, but the actors appeared to feel that way. In addition, the script calls for Sol to go lie down in the bedroom because he is not helping the conversation. As Walter begins to assert himself and insert himself, Sol reacts like a guy who just got his finger caught in a door jamb. Not happy and very loud. He is banished to the bedroom, a very odd stage direction, while the two brothers try to work it out.
They never do, of course, which we know from the start. Old laundry is dragged out. Secrets revealed. Shame exposed. Wounds picked at. The whole shebang. For this writer it was uneventful bordering on confusing – this is the part where the actors felt out of sync and the blocking was awkward.
When all was said and done we were, thankfully, left with DeVito alone onstage, listening to an old record and laughing in the spotlight. Which is kind of where he was all along, because this way the only guy willing to pay the price he named.
And not for nothin’ but the script says the location is an attic in a brownstone. This glorious set by Derek McLane took up most of the stage, and was the size of a brownstone the way that an elephant is the size of a carton of milk. It was huge beyond imagining. These people are supposed to be piled on top of one another emotionally and physically. In this production they had to do a fair amount of hiking just to get close enough to be in someone’s way. That is way too much work.
THE PRICE by Arthur Miller, Directed by Terry Kinney
With: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito
Derek McLane (Set Design), Sarah Holden (Costume Design), David Weiner (Lighting Design), Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen (Sound Design), Jesse Tabish (Original Compositions), Tom Watson (Hair & Wig Design), Thomas Schall (Fight Director). Partial underwriting support for Arthur Miller’s The Price is provided by the Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater.
Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes, Artistic Director/CEO) is thrilled to present THE PRICE. TICKET INFORMATION:
Tickets for The Price are available by calling 212.719.1300, online at roundabouttheatre.org, and in person at any Roundabout box office: American Airlines Theatre Box office (227 West 42nd Street); The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 W 46th Street) and Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street). All single tickets are $69- $169.
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: The Price plays Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00PM with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00PM.