The Peat Hereafter: Portia wrestles with past, dead sibling.
The Peat Hereafter: Portia wrestles with past, dead sibling.

If during The Price’s intermission you should find yourself wondering if that first act you just witnessed was written not by Arthur Miller but by his warmer, funnier, anti-matter-universe twin: Yeah, you’re not alone.

In playing 89-year-old furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, veteran actor Robert Prosky discovers a great reservoir of tender, world-weary humor in Miller’s 1968 play. That’s the disconnect: Although the Arthur Miller most theatergoers know best possesses a comic sensibility, it’s a largely satiric one. After all, satire is just Funny With Something to Prove, and the preternaturally political Miller never met a set of ribs he wouldn’t happily poke.

Not here, though. Prosky’s Solomon spends a downright languorous first act engaged in a series of wildly discursive negotiations with Victor (Robert’s son Andrew Prosky), a forlorn beat cop on the cusp of retirement. Under discussion: the proper price for a hoard of massive old furniture that belonged to Victor’s dead father. This genially wistful conversation is loaded with laugh lines, which Prosky père tosses off lightly, making sure we feel the shrewd intelligence behind Solomon’s bumbling, avuncular exterior. “If they would build old hotels, I might be able to find a place for [your furniture]. Unfortunately, they only build new hotels.” It’s Antiques Roadshow by way of Columbo, and it’s a lot of fun.

Which is a head-scratcher, because in our universe the name Arthur Miller is found in the vicinity of the phrase “a lot of fun” about as often as it crops up near the phrase “drag queen bingo.” But then, just as you’re ready to chalk the whole thing up to some kind of massive dramaturgical transporter malfunction—and trying to decide whether Dark-Mirror Arthur Miller has a goatee or not—the second act starts. Within minutes, we find ourselves back in more familiar, stark-exploration-of-the-human-condition territory.

We arrive there on the heels of Walter (John Prosky, another scion of Robert), Victor’s long-estranged brother. Walter is now a successful surgeon, a turn of events largely attributable to the fact that he abandoned his family three decades before, leaving Victor to care for their ailing father. Suspicions and resentments arise, bitter recriminations between Prosky fils ensue. In other words: It’s Miller time.

When we meet them, both brothers are trapped deep inside the rationalizations they’ve carefully constructed and maintained for almost 30 years. Director Michael Carleton slams the hard edges of their self-deceptions against each other for most of the second act, allowing us to catch glimpses of the truths that neither son is capable of seeing. We watch Victor’s distrust of Walter rise up until he nearly chokes on it (Andrew Prosky spends a whole lot of his time onstage with his hands thrust into his pockets, regarding his brother with the same open-mouthed you-gotta-be-kidding-me face; you’ll likely wish the actor would switch things up a bit). And it doesn’t take long for John Prosky to turn Walter’s initial crinkly, affable smile of greeting into a feral snarl.

While all this is going on, Robert Prosky’s Solomon gets shunted offstage, returning only intermittently to throw out a pithy observation or two. You’ll miss him, but you might find other things to occupy you: Leisa Mathers plays Victor’s wife Esther as a woman just coming to the realization that sticking by the husband she loves means getting stuck herself. And you can almost smell the mustiness of Robert Kramer’s ingeniously cramped set, down to the real-looking cobwebs that glint in Jason Arnold’s sepia-toned lighting.

Does the much-hyped Prosky & Sons casting add any meta-fraternal/fatherly frisson to the proceedings? I didn’t pick up on any to speak of, but you might; mileage varies, with that kind of thing. It’s certainly hard to take your eyes of the elder Prosky as he turns in a performance that seems, more than anything else, effortless. But then, why would you want to?