The Price


I have to admit: I was exhausted when I saw the Roundabout revival of Arthur Miller's The Price, and was fading in and out during the first act. It's possible I missed something but I think this just isn't a great play. In the program notes, Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes acknowledges that this is not one of Miller's oft-produced plays (like Death of a Salesman or A View from the Bridge). There's a reason for that. While this has the classical elements of a well-made play (fidelity of time and location), those elements don't necessarily translate into riveting drama.

The action of the play revolves around two estranged brothers, Victor (Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)) and Walter (Tony Shalhoub (Act One)), coming together to settle their father's estate. Victor's wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht (Stage Kiss)), has her own point of view regarding the brothers' relationship, and interloper Gregory Solomon (Danny DeVito) is on hand as an opinionated appraiser. On the surface, the title refers to the price Gregory will pay the brothers for their father's belongings; if you dig deeper (and make it through the play), you see that "the price" refers to the total cost—financial, emotional, psychological—you're willing to pay for the things you want.

It takes a while to get there, though. The entire first act is exposition; it's almost exclusively Victor and Gregory haggling over the price. Gregory keeps telling Victor that though the furniture is good, that's not what people want, so he's not going to pay top dollar. (Said furniture—physical memories—appropriately crowd the stage in Derek McLane's scenic design.) Wanting an exact figure, Victor keeps pushing for a number. They reach an agreement, the money starts changing hands, and then Walter shows up. Blackout. Completely unsatisfying, act one is people talking at one another; there's no connection.

Things pick up in act two (no time has passed), with the brothers having a long-awaited reckoning. The second act has more meat to it; this is where Miller gets into family drama, which is his bread and butter. It's certainly more interesting, but it still doesn't grab you. Directed by Terry Kinney, The Price has good pedigree but is definitely not best in show. Ruffalo and Shalhoub are actors at the top of their game (Hecht is no slouch, and DeVito is fine), and that's part of what makes The Price so disappointing. I've seen great actors elevate sub-par material, but that's not happening here. There are good moments here and there, mostly whenever Shalhoub is speaking, but it's not enough. Perhaps it's just a matter of all four of them being miscast, it happens; or, perhaps, this isn't a great play.

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