Arthur Miller's 1968 drama "The Price" may not belong in the ranks of his best work, but it has somewhat more vigor than is apparent in the dusty revival currently playing at the Resource Theatre.
On the surface of things, two long-estranged brothers -- one a money-strapped policeman, the other an eminent surgeon -- meet in their late father's house to dispose of his belongings. An 89-year-old Jewish furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, has just huffed and puffed his way up the stairs. Soon they are haggling over an acceptable price for the matched bureaus, the broken harp, the massive dining-room table and all the other shrouded odds and ends that clutter the room.
But Miller is a moralist, first and foremost, and what really interests him is the price we pay for our actions. Picking their way through the furniture, the brothers end up rehashing their past and their respective attitudes toward their father, a businessman who went bust in the 1929 crash and never regained his will to live. The surgeon walked away, choosing to pursue his own hollow vision of success. The policeman sacrificed a promising future to stay by the father's side, although, ironically, it may have been an unnecessary act of self-abnegation.
Now, 16 years later, the brothers find themselves compelled to tote up the tally sheet. It makes for a script heavy with accusations, recriminations and the resuscitation of buried memories. At the Resource, however, the drama never ignites. Director Dorothy Neumann has shown considerable flair in the past with plays that explore the ghosts and demons in the family closet (Athol Fugard's "Hello and Goodbye," for one), but she and her cast seem to be poking the ashes of a dead fire this time.
Miller's dialogue is on the dry side, and it needs every bit of emotional coloration it can get from performers if it is not to smack of debate. But here, the characters appear to be no more, no less than the sum of their words. There are no unspoken depths, no troublesome silences, no glints of irrationality to give the lie to their self-justifying arguments. Instead, we are subjected to a deluge of fairly straightforward talk that turns tiresome in short order.
The actors have proved themselves under other circumstances, so I'm not sure what has gone wrong. As David Sitomer plays him, the policeman is a decent enough guy, but hardly one to command an evening's interest. Morris J. Chalick contributes an obvious portrait of the surgeon, who has acquired all the material trappings of success, along with some common drawbacks (nervous breakdowns, divorce, etc.). Marie McKenzie flirts with the notion that the policeman's wife may be more than just frustrated, that her mental state may, in fact, be precarious. But it's never more than a flirtation.
That leaves the elderly furniture dealer, a character admired for its humor and originality when the play first appeared on Broadway. L.C. (Pete) Holm, who looks like the world's oldest sparrow, projects a certain sweetness on the stage, but fails to capitalize on the shrewdness and the wry wisdom Miller wrote into the part.
The Resource is definitely selling "The Price" short. It has given a third-rate production to a second-rate play. THE PRICE. By Arthur Miller. Directed by Dorothy Neumann. Set, Myra Caulfield; lighting, Lea Hart. With David Sitomer, Marie McKenzie, L.C. (Pete) Holm, Morris J. Chalick. At the Resource through Dec. 22.