“With used furniture, you can’t be emotional,” says Solomon, the shrewd 89-year-old appraiser who has come to assess the beautifully made, sturdy tables and other physical remains of a once-wealthy New York family before the house is demolished.
But with such beautifully made, sturdy used plays as Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” emotions are rich, deep and very welcome indeed.
The Roundabout Theatre has put together a splendid cast — Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito — for director Terry Kinney’s straightforward and loving revival of Miller’s drama about the value of things and the price of delusions.
For reasons unknown, “The Price,” which had its premiere in the tumultuous late ’60s, has mostly been warehoused as middle-shelf Miller. Perhaps audiences were not as starved as we are now for big drama that can hold a Broadway stage with nuanced ideas about the concerns of ordinary people.
After radical, dazzling director-driven revivals of Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” and “The Crucible,” not to mention the profoundly stripped-down rethinking of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” it feels almost novel — at least, quietly reassuring — to have a lesser-known Miller work presented with down-the-middle sensibilities and expert care.
Two estranged brothers — Ruffalo’s Victor, a beat cop, and Shalhoub’s Walter, a wealthy surgeon — come together after 16 years to sell a towering attic of furniture their parents bought before the 1929 crash.
Victor is ostensibly the good boy, who gave up his science career to care for their shattered patriarch, whose silk chair, 16 years after he died, still has its place in the memory-piled room designed by Derek McLane. Walter, who strides up the narrow stairs in his camel-hair coat (keen costumes by Sarah J. Holden), is the one who blithely went to medical school.
Of course, Miller is far too tough a thinker to let his characters off without paying the price of their choices. Is there a difference between selfish ambition and selfish altruism? Should we admire or resent Victor’s willingness to settle for so much less? Is life really made of strivers and losers, triumph and shame?
The weight of these questions rests on Victor’s increasingly bitter wife, played with tenderness and brutal impatience by Hecht. And the comic relief — an integral part of a story that includes an old-time novelty record of people laughing — is ladled on with canny dexterity by DeVito, as the appraiser in his strong Broadway debut.
Miller, whose parents lost everything in the crash, knew these lives’ sore spots. And this production knows how to make them still hurt.