When a theater company produces an Arthur Miller play, chances are it's going to be "Death of a Salesman," "The Crucible" or "All My Sons."
Sarasota's Banyan Theater is starting its 2014 season with a second-tier Miller work, "The Price."
The production, which runs through this weekend at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, shows why "The Price" isn't staged more often. It's a play with powerful moments and uncomfortably challenging ideas, but it's nowhere near as emotionally involving as Miller's best.
That's not to say it's bad. Second-tier Miller is better than the best of most other playwrights.
The entire play takes place in the attic of a New York City brownstone in 1968. (The set by Chris McVicker is flavorful, evocative and dingily attractive.) The patriarch of the family who lived there has recently passed away, and his two sons, estranged for many years, meet there with an antiques dealer. The dealer is there to put a price on the family's belongings.
The relationship between the two brothers is complex, and the complexities deepen as the play progresses and the backstory of their relationship is revealed. One brother has abandoned the aging father and gone on to become a renowned surgeon, and the other has put familial obligations first and has become a cop instead of the scientist he hoped to be. The cop resents his brother, but the brother's life hasn't been as smooth as it seems.
The first act is talky and rather dry. The second act is just as talky but packed with explosive ideas. Miller's most impressive achievement in this play is his ability to make the audience switch allegiance and sympathy from one brother two the other. But it's not especially emotionally involving.
In the Banyan production, directed by Don Walker, the most impressive achievement is the performance of Conrad Feininger as the antiques dealer, his first role with the company. His character is partly there for comic relief, but he's also a catalyst for confrontations and negotiations between the two brothers. Feininger's a joy to watch every moment he's on stage.
Unfortunately, Miller doesn't seem to know what to do with the character when he's not needed, which is for most of the play's last half. For long periods of time, the dealer simply walks into another bedroom and just sits there alone, apparently doing nothing. He comes out and delivers a piquant line or two then retreats again.
Charlie Kevin and Peter Thomassen, as the brothers, both have very charismatic moments, and ably handle the demanding dialogue. But they both have moments in which the emotion is strained or lacking.
In the end, the Banyan production of "The Price" sends you home thinking about duty, devotion and amily. And, like a lot of Miller's work, it makes you think about the profound implications of being less than honest with yourself. That's what the play is meant to do, so the Banyan production is a success.
But you also may drive home wishing you had been able to see "Death of a Salesman" instead.
"The Price" runs through Sunday in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets : $28.50. Call 941-351-2808, or go to banyantheatercompany.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.