With contrived accents and mannered performances, Terry Kinney’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price lacks genuine dramatic punch. The tension in this family drama does not accrete, with each performer working against each other in tone and approach.
Since it is Miller, we know the confrontation between estranged brothers Victor (Mark Ruffalo) and Walter (Tony Shalhoub), as they sell off their late father’s belongings to an elderly antiques dealer (Danny DeVito), will end badly. Along with Victor’s wife Esther (Jessica Hecht), they argue about such issues as the past, money, sacrifice and ambition.
Even as brothers on different paths, Shalhoub and Ruffalo show no chemistry or kinship. They both wear their characters’ class and changed fortunes uncomfortably. We do not sense the emotional stakes in their fights. Shalhoub resists sincerity even when his character is meant to open up. Ruffalo smiles at the oddest times and seems bemused for much of the play. But when he has to excavate serious emotion, his performance ends up too internalised.
The play is structured in a manner designed to shift our allegiances between the brothers as bits of truth spill out, but neither actor makes his case well. Hecht cuts closest to the Miller quick with her long-pained, disillusioned and fidgety Esther. DeVito starts too hammy and cannot pull back when gravitas is needed.
It is Derek McLane’s haunting set, with its cloud-filled horizon crushed by heavy furniture hanging from the rafters, that sets the right tone for the story meant to unfold.