Arthur Miller’s The Price
American Airlines Theatre, Manhattan
By Andrew Andrews
Arthur Miller’s The Price is a complex work. It starts out almost painfully slow then develops a slight sense of humor. The real tension finally begins the minute before intermission, then the tension twists and turns uncomfortably for just a little bit too long and never quite resolves itself (just like real life, one might say). It’s somehow easy to appreciate and easy to dislike at the same time. For that, the story itself is difficult to review—so let’s start somewhere else!
When you enter the theater, you’re greeted by a stage that strangely mimics the story that’s about to unfold: a beautiful view of the rooftop water towers of New York City, as seen from the top floor loft of a painful walk-up, the walls of which have been omitted to draw attention to the roof and the collection of antique furniture that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a scene that is simple in its composition but cluttered in its volume, layers of frames and fabrics that are individually straightforward but a lot to sort through as a whole. Kudos to set designer Derek McLane!
Mark Ruffalo appears on stage first as Victor, very slowly reconnecting with this roomful of items he once knew. Jessica Hecht eventually (finally!) joins him as his wife Esther, adding a bit of relationship tension that continues throughout the story. Danny DeVito (Solomon) brings a wonderful comic element that makes the scene just a little more unsettling. Then, in that moment before intermission, Tony Shalhoub (Walter) introduces the real tension that continues through the end of the story. With an experienced cast like this you know that the acting will be grand, and it certainly is, with the portrayals down pat and only a couple of barely-noticeable stutters (with a recovery expert enough that most viewers would probably not even notice). Ruffalo and DeVito’s characters are wonderfully consistent; Esther and Walter not-so-much, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is Miller’s doing and how much should be assigned to the direction of Terry Kinney— as mentioned, this is a difficult piece to review! Miller’s work is intentionally uncomfortable, questioning social norms and their connections to the choices we make as individuals, and this performance sees to it that Miller’s discomfort is accurately conveyed to the audience. The big question, though, is whether the discomfort goes just a bit too far, and whether the protraction is due to Miller’s verbosity, Kinney’s direction or a combination of the two.
Regardless of its difficulties, this production will definitely not be a waste of your time, although at times it might begin to feel like it. Keep in mind that, with a cast of only four characters and no orchestra to split the door, it isn’t a great value for The Price. That’s intentionally a pun, and if you know the plot of the story, you can take it even deeper. But if it sounds like we’re telling you to pass on this show, the four-star rating should suggest otherwise. To spell it out: see the show for a discount and you won’t be disappointed. Conflicted, maybe. But definitely not disappointed.
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Andrew Andrews attended Arthur Miller’s The Price at American Airlines Theatre in Manhattan on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 8:00pm to write this review.