If you squint real hard you might see a slight physical resemblance between Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub as they play siblings in “The Price.” The thick hair, dusted with gray. The shape of their faces. The builds.
Then again, if you don’t see much of a likeness that works too. The two men are complete opposites in this almost 50-year-old Arthur Miller drama, now on Broadway in a new production that can’t mask the play’s weaknesses but compensates a bit with some strong acting.
In 1968 in New York, estranged brothers Victor Franz (Ruffalo), a veteran cop who’s unsure about retirement, and Walter (Shalhoub), a hotshot doctor and his own biggest fan, reunite after not speaking for 16 years. The two, along with Vic’s wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht), gather to sell off family furniture and heirlooms. The get-together is awkward, to say the least.
The same goes for the play, which doesn’t match better works like “Death of a Salesman,” “A View from the Bridge” and “All My Sons.” But, like those plays, “The Price” concerns family inner workings — and breakdowns.
Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) has spent nearly three decades as a cop and he and his wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) regret that.
(Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus)
The first act is a slow-mo slog. Vic and his wife air their unhappiness and haggle with an ancient furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (Danny DeVito, in his Broadway debut), who’s eager to buy all the furnishings — if the price is right. Walter arrives just as Act I ends, and things finally get in gear.
In the second half, Miller finds contrived ways for Solomon to stick around, while Franz revelations tumble out one after another. Like how cash-strapped young Vic, despite his high IQ, skipped college to care for the men’s aging dad. Walter, meanwhile, looked out for number one. Always did. Always will. The most interesting character in the play is nowhere in sight — the manipulative deceased dad who played his kids like, well, a harp. There’s one of the those instruments on stage along with a department store’s worth of old dressers, tables and chairs. The set reveals the sky and a half-dozen water towers, suggesting less confined open space. It’s a far cry from the claustrophobic and troubled home.
Terry Kinney guides an atmospheric, period-rich production. Acting is uneven. Ruffalo gives a lived-in, believable performance as the indecisive and unsatisfied cop. But it’s a mystery why being a career cop was a fate worse than death. Hecht is persuasive as an acrid, long-suffering spouse who’s unafraid to speak her mind. But Shalhoub’s mannered performance jars and gums up the works. Judging by his deliberate cadence, he can’t quite shake the character he recently played in the musical “The Band’s Visit.”
From left, Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub.
(Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus)
DeVito, as a nearly 90-year-old wheeler dealer who’s gone through various wives and buried a daughter who killed herself and just kept on going emerges as the show’s MVP. Solomon is an all too rare commodity in a Miller play, comic relief. DeVito, of “Taxi” fame, makes an irresistible meal out of his part. Solomon spews a half-eaten egg and priceless wisdom. “With used furniture,” he says, “you cannot be emotional.”
The same goes for the past — and choices that all come with a price. That’s what Solomon, er, Miller, is really all too bluntly talking about. Good luck with that.