There’s a scene in Myla Goldberg’s “Bee Season” where a character explores a storage locker. Instead of finding the typical packrat arrangement, he discovers a museum of trinkets, a tribute to the tragic obsession and neuroses of his wife. It is a dramatic passage built on vivid description. It is the only time I’ve ever been made physically ill by literature. I was reminded of this passage when I entered TimeLine Theatre for their production of Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” a masterpiece so grotesquely, richly and unbearably detailed that it might make you vomit. And I mean that in the best way possible.
“The Price” is essential Miller. That means working-class characters grappling with what it means to be successful, brave and virtuous against the backdrop of the American dream. Perhaps more important than the themes, which are consistent across Miller’s body of work, are the demands the playwright makes of the actors who take up his work. “The Price” is blessed with four stunning talents, each possessing an unshakable commitment to the modern resonance of the text.
“The Price” marks Kymberly Mellen’s return to the Chicago stage. It was worth the wait. Her transformation over the course of this play’s effortless two-and-a-half hours is exquisite. Her performance ought to be required viewing for every young, aspiring actor. Louis Contey’s dynamic and subtle direction seeps into every nook and cranny of the production. Here, silence is often as much a weapon as words and proves an even greater tool for discovery as the play’s elegant wordless opening demonstrates.
Under Brian Sidney Bembridge’s stunning scenic design, an oceanic assemblage of vintage furniture that appropriately feels as if it’s about to come crashing down on the visitors of this Manhattan brownstone, entire lives built on sacrifice and mercy collide with the harsh realities of what Miller perceived as an increasingly isolated and fractured America. Not to be misconstrued as a cynic, he leaves us on a promising note. “Whatever you see, you believe?” Mellen asks Mike Nussbaum’s octogenarian antique dealer. In return he shrugs as if to say, “What else can we do?” (Kevin Greene)
TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 West Wellington, timelinetheatre.com, $38-$51. Through November 22.