Playwright Arthur Miller always probed character as well as circumstance and “The Price,” a Roundabout Theatre Company presentation directed by Terry Kinney, is a fine example. Set In New York in 1968, it starts simply as a cop silently surveys the cluttered, abandoned furniture store of his late father. By the time the play is over, we have been given a searing portrait of two estranged brothers and their alternate pursuits in life, plus revelations about their father, marriages and the era from which those under inspection emerged.
The cast in this revival is a major attraction. Mark Ruffalo thoroughly inhabits the character Victor Franz, who became a policeman and is inching toward retirement. He might have pursued other dreams had he not had obligations toward his father, but the force has been his life. Jessica Hecht is superb as his dissatisfied wife, Esther. She is torn between her marriage and her longing for a financially better existence and blames Victor for not chasing more opportunities for gain.
Miller had the gift of injecting humor into drama. In this case, that comes early with the appearance of Danny DeVito as Gregory Solomon, a second-hand furniture dealer who arrives to survey what’s up for sale in the place, which scenic designer Derek McClane has packed with all sorts of antique leftovers. DeVito is very funny as he maneuvers to pay as little as possible for the lot. He adopts a Yiddish accent, which lapses at places, but that doesn’t matter. It is a showy role for him and he seizes the opportunity and gets laughs with Miller’s lines, augmented by his own take on the character.
As they amusingly haggle to the exasperation of Victor, along comes Tony Shalhoub as Victor’s brother, Walter, who is a successful, affluent doctor, a profession he attained by walking away from home constraints—the opposite path of the resentful Victor, whose efforts to get in touch with Walter over the years were ignored.
The brothers are the equal inheritors of whatever money the store contents can bring. The figure will be minimal, but Esther sees Victor’s share as helpful. When Walter, after intruding on the negotiations thus far and bargaining with Solomon for a better deal, offers to turn over his share to Victor as a gesture of reconciliation, Esther shows eagerness for Victor to accept. But old animosity and pride are impediments. Throughout her performance Hecht is excellent with facial expressions revealing her feelings and frustrations.
We know an explosion is due evoking the hostility going back years, and when it comes the dramatic sparks fly and Ruffalo and Shalhoub make the most of their confrontation. The play is yet another example of how Miller could expertly probe into lives and situations with precision and heart. “The Price” succeeds as biting family drama. At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-719-1300.? Reviewed March 26, 2017.