- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Despite a pre-show tumble, actor Robert Prosky still can hold an audience in the palm of his hand.

With what appeared to be a busted lip and a black eye, Mr. Prosky not only rallied, but also delivered a performance of deep charm as Gregory Solomon, the debonairly cunning Jewish furniture appraiser in Arthur Miller’s 1968 play “The Price.”

Solomon is a man of many years and many wiles, and Mr. Prosky adeptly mines the comic and poignant aspects of both advanced age and a lifetime of haggling. It’s the most vivid role in a play in which the other characters seem to be leeched of color after years of banked antipathy and stagnation. Mr. Prosky knows this keenly and provides the only glints of warmth and playfulness in Mr. Miller’s bitter and often dour probe into sibling rivalry and family dynamics.

“The Price” takes place in the attic of a New York building about to be torn down, a space filled with massive, out-of-date furniture and possessions that once bespoke wealth but now look dusty and forgotten. Victor Franz (Andrew Prosky), a cop on the cusp of retirement, has hired Solomon to buy the lot — all that’s left of his dead father’s life and dubious legacy.

His depressed, tippling wife Esther (Leisa Mather) wants Victor to get a good price so they can start a new life together. Just as Solomon is about to close the deal, Victor’s estranged brother Walter (John Prosky), a successful doctor, arrives and reopens long-simmering disputes over who sacrificed the most for their father’s sake and who’s living the bigger lie.

What Theater J’s production, directed by Michael Carleton, has going for it is the chance to see the legendary Mr. Prosky onstage once again and also the potentially intriguing casting of Mr. Prosky’s real-life sons Andrew and John as the battling brothers. Mr. Prosky and son Andrew (who physically resembles his father) establish a relaxed, bantering rhythm in the first act that brings out teasing and humorous elements in Mr. Miller’s somber drama.

The big guns, naturally, are reserved for Act 2, when Walter bursts in and immediately gums up the negotiations between Victor and Solomon. The confrontations between the two brothers should be revelatory and searing as they peel back the layers of resentment and revisionist history until they are faced with the ugly truth of who their father truly was — and the men he molded them into. Instead, the skirmishes seem shouty and showy, and you never get the impression that Victor is a canny listener — a skill acquired from 28 years on the beat — or that Walter has one of those scalpellike scientific minds that cleanly slices through fact and fiction.

The scenes between Victor and Esther are equally stiff and unconvincing, and you fail to sense the years or any hint of feeling between them. With acting this stilted, “The Price” often resembles the furniture Victor is trying to unload on Solomon: outmoded and too heavy to move.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Price” by Arthur Miller

WHERE: Theater J, DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through April 18.

TICKETS: $15 to $50

PHONE: 800/494-TIXS

WEB SITE: www.theaterj.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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