Powerful and poignant family drama
|TimeLine Theatre Company presents|
Review by Clint May
When I hear the name Arthur Miller, I think four words: “tell me a story.” No 20th century playwright did it better, but Miller’s The Price remains unfairly obscure. Opening on Broadway in 1968 to mixed reviews, the play eventually lost the Tony Award to Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Miller knew audiences expected his allegorical reaction to Vietnam (similar to The Crucible as a commentary on McCarthyism). Instead, he gave Broadway a quieter, more intimate family drama. TimeLine Theatre Company’s superb production is living proof that The Price deserves to be regarded a classic, as opposed to a mistake.
In New York City, a once-majestic brownstone is marked for demolition and two estranged brothers will be reunited as they sort through their late father’s belongings. The first to arrive is Victor (Bret Tuomi), a humble cop with a loving but high-strung wife (Kymberly Mellen), who never finished college or pursued his scientific inclinations. Late to the party is Walter (Roderick Peeples), a wealthy and successful physician who’s all blustery kindness – at least at first. As the two brothers deal with 90-year-old estate agent Gregory Solomon (Mike Nussbaum), and dredge up memories of their riches-to-rags childhood, they struggle to reconcile their past, present and future, separately and together.
Miller later explained that The Price wasn’t a response to Vietnam, but to the absurdist theater that was in vogue at the time. Indeed, The Price is a simple tale as old as time – two brothers, two different life paths – that gradually reveals its complexities as characters and audience alike dive deeper. While at times the monologues run a bit long, Miller’s phrasing is deliberate and, like every interaction between family members since the beginning of time, rife with subtext. Each of the four characters lives in a gray area – even the comic relief Solomon isn’t a caricature. In many ways, Miller captured real life more effectively in The Price than in his better-regarded work. Director Louis Contey’s remarkable interpretation takes a cue from Miller, infusing more subtext into everything from Vic’s kissing his wife’s cheek to Solomon reminiscing about his past as a Jewish acrobat.
Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set design is a work of modern art. Audience members walk right into the brownstone’s attic, with furniture placed precariously high, a once-treasured and now out-of-tune harp in the corner, and heavy dressers and wardrobes stuffed with ham radios, old dresses and memories. One can almost smell the mustiness, and relive their own experiences with the light and dark sides of nostalgia. Even the slight sense of claustrophobia works perfectly in this context: after all, the past can be a stifling thing.
As is the case with most of TimeLine’s oeuvre, this production is bursting with talent. Tuomi’s Vic is equal parts paternal and frustrated, adoring his wife while also wanting her to do more, be more. The actor does a wonderful job highlighting Victor’s hurt pride: he’s made sacrifices, has a relatively satisfying life, but just wants people to see him as a success. Peeples’ Walter is the perfect foil, bringing airs of elegance and calm with tension bubbling just under the smooth-talking surface. Mellen conveys desperation and honesty as Esther, and Nussbaum (who according to his bio, is the oldest working Equity stage actor) has humor and humanity that are utterly timeless.
TimeLine has certainly earned its reputation for beautifully produced, thought-provoking work – its 2013 The Normal Heart is to date the only play that’s left me loudly sobbing in my seat. As I exited the theater minutes after curtain call, I heard many of my fellow patrons deep in conversation about The Price’s story, characters and message. TimeLine’s finely-tuned production inspired me to take a long walk, pondering my own life choices and thanking my lucky stars for my own functional family.
The Price continues through November 22nd at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $38-$51, and are available by phone (773-281-8463 x6) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TimeLineTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Lara Goetsch
behind the scenes
Louis Contey (director), Brian Sidney Bembridge (scenic and lighting design), Sarah Jo White (costume design), Andrew Hansen (sound design), Mary O’Dowd and Amy Peter (properties design), Maren Robinson (dramaturgy), Josephine Kearns (stage management), Lara Goetsch (photos, marketing)