Bargaining over the true value of a life in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’

SHARE Bargaining over the true value of a life in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’
SHARE Bargaining over the true value of a life in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’

First things first. It is time to declare actor Mike Nussbaum the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Watch the 91-year-old actor as he moves through TimeLine Theatre’s gripping revival of “The Price” — Arthur Miller’s play about family, money, ambition, sacrifice, self-deception and the blackly comic joke that is life itself — and you are treated to something altogether rare and remarkable. It goes far beyond masterful artistry fully sustained and magnified over the decades. It is a combination of insight, experience, timing and, yes, pure magic.

Beyond all that, Nussbaum possesses a genius for effortlessly injecting the most brilliant comic relief into one of Miller’s bleakest and most despairing portraits of human nature. And he is framed by a stellar production, ideally directed by Louis Contey and featuring a trio of terrific actors (Bret Tuomi, Kymberly Mellen and Roderick Peeples) with a genuine flair for capturing the inner resentments that are such crucial elements in the DNA of Miller’s characters.

‘THE PRICE’

Highly recommended

When: Through Nov. 22

Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington

Tickets: $38-$51

Info: (773) 281-8463;

www.timelinetheatre.com

Run time: 2 hours

and 30 minutes with one intermission

“The Price” is set in the furniture-stuffed attic of a Manhattan brownstone, and designer Brian Sidney Bembridge’s eye-popping set, created in collaboration with prop master Mary O’Dowd, is a miracle of collecting and cantilevering. Outside it is 1968 — a time of urban upheaval, although there is no mention of this because in many ways Victor Franz (Tuomi), his loyal but restless wife Esther (Mellen, a unique talent who has been absent from Chicago stages for all too long) and Victor’s long estranged bother, Walter (Peeples), are stuck in the 1930s. That is when the Great Depression upended the brothers’ wealthy father and, for reasons still being wrestled with, destroyed their own relationship.

Roderick Peeples (from left), Kymberly Mellen and Bret Tuomi in Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” at TimeLine Theatre. (Photo: Lara Goetsch)

Roderick Peeples (from left), Kymberly Mellen and Bret Tuomi in Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” at TimeLine Theatre. (Photo: Lara Goetsch)

Victor, about to turn 50, is a longtime police officer who gave up studying science to become a cop and help support their father in the wake of his bankruptcy. Walter left home and became a wealthy, prestigious doctor. The two men have not spoken in many years, but now, with the old brownstone scheduled for demolition, Victor has informed Walter of the situation and called an assessor to buy the stuff and cart it away.

Gregory Solomon (Nussbaum) is not exactly the man Victor expected to show up when he found his name in the phone book. And the hoarder’s nest stuffed with heavy, old-fashioned furniture that no longer fits into modern apartments is not quite what Solomon expected, although it sparks his zest for life and doing business. And unlike Victor, he knows how to make a deal.

More crucially, this Russian-Jewish immigrant — who has had four wives and suffered a personal tragedy that still haunts him, yet retains an indomitable lust for life — knows what happens to families when they decide to divide “the spoils.” It is never pretty, and in this case it opens up decades of discontent and misunderstandings. In addition, Esther is hungry to win something for herself and her husband after years of denial.

Brett Tuomi (left) and Mike Nussbaum in TimeLine Theatre’s production of “The Price.” (Photo: Lara Goetsch)

Brett Tuomi (left) and Mike Nussbaum in TimeLine Theatre’s production of “The Price.” (Photo: Lara Goetsch)

Miller (whose 100th birthday is this year) was a child of the Great Depression and he never forgot it. He became a master of railing against the culture of consumerism (though he was no stranger to the finer things in life). He had an almost biblical sense of sibling rivalry. And despite his own success, he was not blind to its illusory nature.

He didn’t write the role of Solomon for Nussbaum, but the fates have aligned to make it seem as if he did. And as the embattled brothers, Tuomi and Peeples go at each other, in their very different ways, to blistering effect.

Earlier this week it was announced that TimeLine’s search for a larger home is moving closer to becoming a reality as part of a redevelopment deal for the Trumbull School in Andersonville. No theater is more deserving of a bigger and better space. Yet there is a part of me that is already mourning a move from the crazy inspiration and intimacy to be found in its current home.

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