Chicago Theatre Review
Memories Explode in Manhattan
The Price – Timeline Theatre
Sometimes a theatergoer attends a play, produced by a topnotch company, confident that he’ll be impressed by what he’s about to see and hear. But sometimes even the most renowned theatre company can offer unexpected surprises. Such is the case with TimeLine’s current production, a celebration of the 100th birthday of playwright Arthur Miller, with his 1968 classic that examines family dynamics. Under Louis Contey’s expert direction, this excellent production surpasses the power and brilliance of even this company’s previous offerings. It’s a masterpiece in every way.
This play, recognized as Miller’s continued exploration of our elusive quest for the American Dream (originating with “All My Sons” and later in his 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Death of a Salesman”), is set in a Manhattan brownstone apartment, stuffed with vintage furniture. This was once the home of the affluent Franz family, whose patriarch lost his fortune when the bottom fell out of the Stock Market in the late 1920’s. As the play opens, his son Victor Franz, a middle-aged cop contemplating his retirement, along with his wife Esther, are awaiting the arrival of antique dealer, Gregory Solomon. Victor is skeptical that his estranged brother Walter, a successful New York doctor, will be joining them, since none of his calls have ever been returned. Mr. Solomon arrives and says that, although most of the furnishings aren’t worth much, he’ll pay $1,100 for the entire lot. Before the transaction can be concluded, Walter unexpectedly arrives, raising new questions, bitter recollections and important concerns. Miller’s explosive play not only weighs the priceless value of memories, but the price placed upon the decisions one makes in life.
Louis Contey’s production is crisp, dynamic and explosively driven by the expertise and artistry of his four accomplished actors. Mr. Contey understands that there’s also drama to be found in silence, so his production feels natural, never rushed or artificially paced. Time, which is such an important factor in this play, is embraced by each actor, allowing each character to emerge at his own pace.
Mike Nussbaum, the brilliant dynamo of so many Chicago productions, dazzles as Gregory Solomon. The actor knows precisely how to create a full, three-dimensional character, whether it’s the family patriarch in TimeLine’s recent “Apple Family Plays,” or this warmly funny, brutally honest buyer of antiques. Watching this skilled artist breathe life into Solomon is a masterclass in acting. Kymberly Mellen is a volcanic entity as Esther Franz. She fumes, scolds and blasts forth her feelings like a caged tiger. Yet, in those quiet moments that belong to the other characters, watch this actress’ face and body language. For a lesson in what it means to be totally committed to one’s craft, Ms. Mellen’s return to the stage in this role is exemplary. Bret Tuomi completely inhabits the role of Victor Franz. Mr. Tuomi is absolutely believable as a middle-aged man who had to settle, who sacrificed his own dreams to do what he needed for his family to survive. This actor’s effortless skill makes him an endearing, empathetic character audiences won’t soon forget. (It should be noted that, beginning October 21, the role of Victor Franz will be played by the talented Terry Hamilton). Equally impressive is Roderick Peeples in his portrayal of Dr. Walter Franz. As the brother who chose to pursue his own goals and, in time, lost much of what was once important in life, Mr. Peeples fulfills our every expectation. It’s in the events that transpire later in the play when the audience learns the truth about this man and his motives. Mr. Peeples is commanding, clever and completely honest as Walter.
In addition to Arthur Miller’s thought-provoking script and Mr. Contey’s truthful direction of an exceptionally talented cast, this play would be nothing without the technical support provided by an army of unseen artists. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s jaw dropping, scenic design, enhanced by Mary O’Dowd and Amy Peter’s properties, is a masterwork of studied casualness. The apartment, through the back hall of which the audience enters, is overstuffed with furniture and relics of the past century. Bembridge’s shadowy lighting accents just the right objects and areas, such as a vintage phonograph and an antique harp. Sarah Jo White’s costume design is period perfect, especially Victor’s NYC police uniform and Esther’s nicely tailored suit, about which much is made. Elise Kauzlaric’s fine dialect work is evident and Dina Spoerl’s lobby display is terrific, helping to further extend the audience’s experience.
TimeLine has outdone itself with this revival of one of Arthur Miller’s finest plays. This drama, which sizzles to life under the direction of Mr. Louis Contey, features the artistry of a terrific cast and crew. Their collective work makes a family’s memories explode all over the stage. This production should not be missed. It’s one that Chicago audiences will remember and be talking about for years to come.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented August 18-November 22 by TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-281-8463 or by going to www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.