When the Great Depression cost his family their fortune, Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) gave up his dream of an education to support his father. Three decades later, Victor has returned to his childhood home to sell the remainder of his parents’ estate.
His wife (Jessica Hecht), his estranged brother (Tony Shalhoub), and the wily furniture dealer (Danny DeVito) hired to appraise their possessions all arrive with their own agendas, forcing Victor to confront a question, long-stifled, about the value of his sacrifice.
You can see why there might be tears watching it: a lesser-known play in the Miller canon, it focuses, like Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, on the emotional knots of fathers and sons, and a lot of very vexed ghosts of the past, and money and its own complicated and perverting force within families. This, as many know only too well, only becomes evident after the death of a parent, and the divisions of the spoils begins.As Miller once told Humanities magazine, “The two greatest plays ever written were Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, and they're both about father-son relationships, you know. So this goes back.” He and his own father Miller once likened to “two search lights on different islands.”
DeVito’s performance bursts with comic energy, notably when he decides in the midst of negotiations to pull a hardboiled egg from his briefcase, cracking it open with his cane. The succeeding minutes of propulsive spittle could well be marketed as Theatrical Lipitor. Do you want an egg? I do not ever again want to see an egg.
Ruffalo stepped into the production after original lead John Turturro withdrew due to scheduling conflicts. The soulful actor's mumbling delivery in the early scenes suggests Vic has internalized his disappointments and his failure to give Esther the life she wants. But the performance acquires power throughout the steady build to an explosive crescendo of anger, hurt and fresh self-doubt after Walter realigns the family dynamics. Hecht is superb in a role torn between spousal loyalty and corrosive agitation. And Shalhoub shifts with grace from smug condescension to brutal honesty, easing into Walter's version of atonement, which will never be what Vic needs.