Brotherly animosity and long pent-up ill will slowly, then explosively, unfolds in the all-star production of Arthur Miller’s The Price. Starring a superlative cast of Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub, Danny DeVito, and Jessica Hecht, the revival is riveting entertainment.
The narrative begins modestly as Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) visits a storage area sheltering his parent’s old furnishings and other household goods. A policeman, who forfeited his chance for higher education to nurse his ailing father years earlier, he now wants to sell the possessions and secure whatever money he can. He is soon joined by his judgmental wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) and a fast-talking, aged used furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (Danny DeVito). Victor and Gregory bicker, thrust, parry and finally negotiate a deal. Soon, Victor’s brother Walter (Tony Shaloub), a successful doctor, who was invited to the proceedings, but not expected to appear, abruptly arrives to join the discussion. The siblings, not on the best of terms and having little contact over the years, skirmish over the brokered agreement. Soon a torrent of bottled up feelings over their father, each man’s life-changing decisions, and family duty and commitment take center stage. The brother’s bitterness and antagonism surges forth with the power of a tidal flood, ebbing every so often before heaving once again. In the end, their relationship is unresolved and left in tatters.
Miller’s tale of family in-fighting is multi-layered, but somewhat long-winded. He convincingly tackles weighty issues through the construct of selling off timeworn family belongings. But the playwright is too reliant on verbal assaults and soul-searching monologues, which can be wearing on an audience even with such an esteemed group of actors. He does, though, soften the drama somewhat by strategically injecting levity into scenes that threaten to become too sober or severe.
The cast is led by Mark Ruffalo, a brooding hulk trying to come to terms with his many relationships. You can feel his tortured soul despondently searching for answers as he clashes with his brother. Tony Shaloub is marvelous as his sibling. Initially, supremely self-confident, he gradually reveals his growing self-doubts and personal demons as the familial skeletons fitfully come forward. Danny DeVito is fabulous as the elderly businessman. He effortlessly combines a world-weariness and comic flair to create the most well-rounded character of the show. What is most impressive about his performance is that he plays a full-bodied character as opposed to his usual television or movie persona. Jessica Hecht gives a nuanced, understated performance as the discontented wife.
Director Terry Kinney skillfully builds the tension within the show to its fractured conclusion. He teases out the simmering strain between the married couple without letting the disunion outshine the essence of Miller’s focal point. Once the inevitable confrontation begins Kinney expertly manages the growing discord and subsequent pyrotechnics through the lens of a long-fused, controlled detonation. The director also deftly injects a playful and humorous component into the production, through Danny DeVito’s character.
Scenic Designer Derek McLane has artfully created a suffocating stage stuffed with furniture and other assorted knick-knacks. Think of a high-end version of the television program “Hoarders.”
The Price, absorbing and gripping entertainment, through May 14th.