|Mark Ruffalo and Jessica Hecht in The Price at Broadway's Roundabout Theatre. (Photo: Joan Marcus)|
Arthur Miller’s plays may have been inspired by Ibsen’s realist dramas, but he rarely seemed able to get at the great unresolvables beneath their well-made social-problem surface. They creak and they clang as the banalities slide into the grooves his dramaturgy has made for them – even when the ideas themselves haven’t always been thought through. (After all these years and God knows how many productions, I’m still not sure exactly what’s being indicted in Death of a Salesman, and, as for The Crucible, however much one might deplore HUAC and the blacklist, it wasn’t much like the Salem witch hunts. For one thing, as Elia Kazan’s wife Molly Day Thacher pointed out in a famous letter to Miller, there actually were Communists in show business.)
The Price, Miller’s last major play, first produced on Broadway in 1968 and currently in revival by the Roundabout Theatre, is particularly clunky. Two brothers meet in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone where Victor, the younger, took care of their father in the twilight years that followed the stock market crash and the death of his wife – two disasters from which, according to Vic, the old man never recovered. A talented scientist, Vic sacrificed his dreams of a research career and joined the police force in order to support him while his brother Walter went to medical school and on to a distinguished and affluent career. Now the building is being torn down and Victor is hoping to secure a good price for the antique furniture from an appraiser whose name he found in the phone book. He’s tried to contact his brother, whom he hasn’t seen in a decade and a half and who hasn’t answered his calls. Just as he’s about to make a deal with the appraiser, Solomon, who’s something of an antique himself, Walter shows up in time for the first-act curtain, and the two brothers – as well as Victor’s wife Esther – learn, as the ten-ton ironies fall about the play’s title, just how high a price we pay for the choices we make in our youth. The second act of the play is mostly a long pitched battle between the estranged brothers, who spell each other with revelations and corresponding accusations. By the time the play is over, it’s long since turned into a very slow tennis match with hammers for rackets.