Who knew that Arthur Miller could be so funny? Leave it to Danny DeVito making his Broadway debut at 72 in this Roundabout production of THE PRICE to pull the rug out from under his co-stars in a revelatory performance as a charming yet shrewd and completely amusing 90 year old antique appraiser Gregory Solomon – with his Yiddish accent and dapper and forlorn looks (for sympathy) his stories (for sympathy) his cane (perhaps for sympathy – wouldn’t put it past him) and his compliments and attitude to get exactly what he wants from the Franz family as he circles and peruses the artifacts and furniture that belonged to the long ago deceased father in this verbose 1968 drama artfully arranged in their attic by set designer Derek McLane.
Daddy died sixteen years ago and his two sons – Victor the cop (Mark Ruffalo) and Walter a successful surgeon (Tony Shalhoub) now divorced haven’t been in contact since that happened. Until now. 1968. New York. They both made choices and now must pay the piper.
Buildings are being torn down to make room for the new. The ready to retire cop has tried to reach the doctor who hasn’t responded and so along with his frustrated yet loving wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) they await the arrival of Mr. Solomon the appraiser that by accident the cop found in an old phone book hoping to unload everything that is hanging around the attic, everything that brings back the past’s unwanted memories, everything that people no longer want especially the Franzs. If they get the right price.
The old radio, an oar, a golden harp, some fencing equipment, a too large dining room table and a Victrola that still works – playing a “laughing record” and chairs that appear as covered up ghosts of the past. A couple of chandeliers mysteriously light up when the past is spoken and argued about between the two siblings. But that is in Act II.
Then we get the real Arthur Miller at his loquacious best. The sibs have a big bone to chew on with each other. The very smart cop sacrificed his studies to take care of their ailing manipulative dad who lost almost everything in the stock market crash. But did he? The doctor charged full speed ahead and became rich (something that the cop’s wife truly wants to be) and refused the cop a small loan when needed. Then we find out about the daddy.
It’s a long way to the payoff by Mr. Solomon who is about to do so at the end of Act I when the doctor makes his eagerly awaited house call and the real fun begins.
Tony Shalhoub is oily and devious. All smiles and agenda. Mark Ruffalo, calm at first reaches his breaking point when the revelations spew forth. They are all very good actors and bring heart and soul to their characters.
The cop is sort of content but rightfully resentful. His wife wants his to take a job offer from his brother. The doctor is trying to wipe the slate clean. Or is he?
THE PRICE is not one of Miller’s greatest plays. For instance: Why have they waited 16 years to get rid of this stuff? Who has been paying for the upkeep of this white elephant of a home for 16 years? Why no mention of the mother? And why is Mr. Solomon relegated to an offstage adjoining room in the attic for speeches on end only to make Detective Columbo-like reentrances when needed?
In the end it is Mr. Solomon however who has and gets the last laugh. Well directed by Terry Kinney. Through May 14th at the American Airlines Theatre.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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