“The Price,” Arthur Miller’s 1968 play, is ostensibly about two brothers who try to hash out their considerable differences after 16 years of hostile silence. But in the Guthrie Theater’s unbalanced production, directed by Britain’s David Thacker, the focus falls on the diminutive Jewish furniture appraiser who enters midway through the first act and steals the show.
Actor David Margulies plays 92-year-old Gregory Solomon, an appraiser hired to determine the worth of the family furniture that Victor Franz (Alan Feinstein) and his brother, Walter (Greg Mullavey), must sell before the family brownstone is demolished. For more than 30 minutes Margulies holds court with age-old wisdom and hilarious one-liners — and generally giving everyone else in the cast a lesson in acting.
Unfortunately, Margulies’ performance is so good that it sucks the life out of the second act when Victor and Walter confront each other. In comparison with Margulies’ perf, the momentous conflict between the two Franz brothers seems almost beside the point.
Brenda Wehle turns in an interestingly neurotic performance as Victor’s wife, tortured by her husband’s lack of ambition and money. But Feinstein and Mullavey don’t sell the complex animosity between the brothers very well, resulting in a second act that only occasionally catches fire. The two actors make unlikely brothers — they look, act and speak too differently, stretching the play’s illusive tissue. Mullavey manages to hit some moments, but too often we’re left with actors valiantly going through the motions, trying too hard to be something they obviously are not.
This production was hailed as the acclaimed Thacker’s U.S. directorial debut, but there’s not that much to hail. “The Price” remains an interesting exploration of the cost of dreams deferred and the unruly role that family dynamics play in our lives. But at the Guthrie, you’d swear the play is about the quixotic art of furniture appraisal.