This Saturday marks Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday. Miller ranks as one of the 20th Century’s greatest playwrights, in the select company of Eugene O’Neill, Tom Stoppard and Tennessee Williams. He wrote numerous plays but three– “Death of Salesman“, “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge“–-are seen as his greatest achievements.
“The Price” is usually not counted among his finest. But, if you see the powerhouse production now playing at Timeline Theater, I’m sure you would add it to his list of classics. Timeline has cast four superb actors–including Chicago theatre legend Mike Nussbaum–who animate the play’s charged emotional and moral complexity in scenes pulsing with hurtful accusation, shrewd bargaining and white-hot anger.
The magic begins as you walk inside the theater and immediately are thrust inside a mid-20th Century apartment, complete with chandelier, old rugs, bureaus and dated furniture. The former occupant has died and his two estranged sons have gathered to dispose of their father’s belongings.
One brother, a tired cop nearing retirement, has invited a wily, 90-year-old antique dealer (Nussbaum) to come and make a offer for his late father’s pile of relics and old furniture.
The first act consists of two charged confrontations: one between Walter and his wife, Esther, who is hoping the proceeds will let them change their lifestyle and a difficult back-and-forth between Walter and the appraiser over price. Each invests “price” with a different meaning.
As the play unfolds, Miller deftly reveals that price is not just monetary but also the emotional price we pay for our life decisions. Walter and Esther both feel trapped by earlier decisions while Walter is resentful of his brother, Victor, a successful doctor.
Miller once said that his legacy was having written good parts for actors. He certainly did so in this production. He has given actors lines they can sink their acting teeth into. The crisp dialogue keeps the conflict and haggling tense while exposing the destructive family dynamics. As the play progresses, we grasp the high personal stakes each character has invested around their sense of price.
Roderick Peeples and Bret Tuomi give gripping performances as the two brothers while Kymberly Mellen poignantly portrays an angry wife who feels trapped and wants a new life. And Nussbaum is commanding, imbuing his antique dealer with humor and ever-shrewd calculation. Director Louis Contey deserves high marks for shaping the production and never letting the tension flag.
You will be sorry if you miss this outstanding revival. “The Price” will be a prime contender come Jeff Awards time. It runs now through November 22 at Timeline’s original home, 615 West Wellington. For tickets, call 773/281-TIME or visit TimelineTheatre.com.