Mike Nussbaum proves his worth in Arthur Miller's overstuffed piece about family and values.
Vic Franz is stuck. Newly 50 and eligible for retirement from the NYPD, he hesitates out of fear he’s too old for a second act. This hesitancy is related, perhaps, to the lethargy that’s kept him from cleaning out his childhood home for 16 years after his father’s death; he’s only doing so now because the building’s being torn down. But Gregory Solomon, the wizened, 89-year-old furniture dealer he’s invited to assess the contents of the attic home, scoffs at Vic’s inertia: “50!” he barks. “You’re a baby boy.”
As spoken by Mike Nussbaum’s Solomon in Arthur Miller's 1968 drama, the line comes with extra oomph. Nussbaum, with well over 50 years on Chicago stages and with a few years on his character, is a delight as one of Miller’s more comic characters, who spends most of the first act rhetorically dodging and parrying Vic’s attempts to get him to name a price for the lot. (Miller wrote The Price, which plays out in real time, to be performed in one very long act, but most productions insert an intermission.)
But the impish furniture dealer is a tertiary character here; the drama, such as it is, centers on the reunion Vic and his estranged brother, Walter. After their family lost everything in the crash of 1929, leading their father to a breakdown, Walter left Vic to provide for the old man—dashing his hopes of finishing school and going into science—while Walter went off to become a successful, wealthy surgeon. When Walter shows up for the appraisal, he seems a changed man, but Vic can’t shake his resentment; recriminations lead to revelations that leave both brothers questioning the choices they made and the prices they paid.
Beyond Nussbaum, Louis Contey’s production features terrifically specific performances from Roderick Peeples as the armistice-seeking Walter and Bret Tuomi as the suspicious Victor (Terry Hamilton takes over the latter role starting October 21); Kymberly Mellen is equally fine as Victor’s frustrated wife, Esther. Yet there are ways the play can leave us frustrated as well. The play frequently feels repetitious, the dialogue stilted; Miller sometimes seems to be stalling with reversal after reversal. Perhaps The Price really was meant to be a one-act.
TimeLine Theatre Company. By Arthur Miller. Directed by Louis Contey. With Bret Tuomi, Kymberly Mellen, Mike Nussbaum, Roderick Peeples. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.