A revival of one of Arthur Miller’s least performed plays, The Price, opens tonight on Broadway. Written in 1967 and performed in 1968, the best known artifact of “The Price” is a 1971 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV broadcast starring no less than Colleen Dewhurst and George C. Scott. That show seems lost even to the internet. There have been three other revivals, but that TV show is the one that always resonated. Until now.
Tonight, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub are the Franz brothers Victor and Walter, Jessica Hecht is Victor’s wife, Esther, and Danny DeVito makes his Broadway debut as Gregory Solomon, the 89 year old antiques dealer who comes to appraise the Franz brothers’ dead parents’ possessions. Mr. Solomon may be some other things, too. But mainly he’s there to defuse the tension since the brothers haven’t seen each other in 16 years. Victor is a retiring cop. Walter is a wealthy doctor with a lot of personal problems. Esther just wants peace.
Shalboub and Hecht are Broadway regulars and can do no wrong. They’re excellent, as expected, and they’re there to keep the boat afloat. They do more than that. You can’t take your eyes off of them.
But it’s Mark Ruffalo, so good in so many movies, and Danny DeVito, of TV comedy fame, who we’re looking at, especially in Act 1. “The Price” offers a bit of comedy in the first act, and DeVito delivers it as if he’s a little cherry bomb. Because “The Price” keeps getting more and more serious, and more upsetting as it delves into the lives of the Franz family, DeVito’s Mr. Solomon is often missed when he’s off stage. It’s a good sign that you keep thinking, Why doesn’t he come back? Meantime, Miller just keeps peeling back the layers on the Franz’s wounds. They are devastating. Believe me, if you thought “The Humans” was drama, you’re going to need a stiff drink when this story ends.
Mark Ruffalo echoes Marlon Brando on stage. That’s a tough description to live up to, but it’s true. Agony reads on his face from the back of the stage to the back of the theater. Victor arrives in his parents’ apartment fairly unemotional and ready to sell everything and be done with it. By the time Walter his picked his every scab, you wonder how he’s still standing up. Ruffalo gives Victor life even when Walter is trying to kick it out of him.
The only stars at last night’s preview were on the stage, although Ruffalo– ever the political activist– did have a Mexican diplomat waiting to see him after the show. Talk of fracking and walls must seem like a respite after two hours in Miller’s depths. Terry Kinney directs, sharply as ever. There will be lots of awards talk for everyone involved.