Getting an Arthur Miller play on Broadway can’t possibly be that hard. After all, Ivo Van Hove did it twice last season with A View From the Bridge and The Crucible. But for Tony-nominated actor-director Terry Kinney, getting a New York company to commit to staging Miller’s The Price has been surprisingly difficult.
“I’ve had the play for a number of years, trying to get it done,” he says. “My agent represents the Miller Estate. I’ve been begging to do this play all over,” adding wryly, “like Willy Loman with a carpet sample in the back of the car.”
This winter, Kinney is finally getting his wish: He is directing The Price on Broadway, in a production from Roundabout Theatre Company. Beginning performances February 16, The Price takes place in 1968, in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone crammed with antique furniture. Two middle-aged estranged brothers—beat cop Victor and renowned surgeon Walter—reunite to sell the remains of their late father’s estate and, in the process, old resentments come to the surface. For Kinney, The Price is Miller’s most personal play. “He actually shared a lot of what Victor goes through, eating out of garbage cans, out of the Depression,” he says. “Miller actually did pawn his mother’s jewelry in order to eat.”
Kinney may be more known as a television actor (Oz, Good Behavior), but he was one of the founding members of Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company and was nominated for an acting Tony for The Grapes of Wrath in 1990 (though he no longer performs onstage because of stage fright).
For his version of The Price, Kinney aims to make this “lesser” Miller shine. First, he has assembled a cast of established character actors: Jessica Hecht, Danny DeVito (making his Broadway debut), Tony Shalhoub, and Mark Ruffalo, marking his appearance on a stage for the first time in over ten years. Second, Kinney is aiming for neither hyperrealism nor minimalism. “I have the kind of powerhouse actors in this production that I don’t want to get in the way of the performances,” he says. He considers himself a hands-off director, giving his actors room to find their character, while his job is to provide “a space where they can perform this play full throated and invested. I’m not trying to create the oppressive environment that the play is usually set in.”
Which is to say: There won’t be as much furniture. Kinney declined to go into full detail, but he describes his concept as “building a realistic set and breaking it in places,” because “memory is broken in places.”
The Price is indeed a memory play, with Walter and Victor discussing events that happened almost 20 years ago, and blaming each other for the current state of their lives. And that is why Kinney has loved the play ever since he read it in high school more than 40 years ago. In it, he saw his working-class parents, his uncles, and even his own brother—the same resentments and unfulfilled ambitions.
In fact, when one of the actors in his production called The Price a “museum piece,” Kinney had to set that actor straight, saying, “pick it up and read it again, and tell me that it doesn’t apply to the conflict that you have within your own family, the kind of conflict that if you sat down to hash it out, you’d never agree about what actually happened. That’s a rare piece that can capture that in its essence, and can make us reflect on our own family relationships. That’s a rare play.”
The Price begins previews February 16 at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre on sale through May 7. Click here for tickets and information.