Playwright: Arthur Miller. At: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: 773-281-8463 or www.timelinetheatre.com; $38-$51. Runs through Nov. 22
The instant you walk into TimeLine Theatre's production of The Price, you're confronted by stacks of antique furniture piled up haphazardly to the ceiling by scenic and lighting designer Brian Sidney Bembridge. And soon enough, all that left-behind excess turns out to have larger metaphorical implications in this 1968 drama that has been so lovingly and astutely revived by director Louis Contey to time with the centennial of its playwright, the late Arthur Miller.
After a savvy sound montage by designer Andrew Hansen that foreshadows the play in the memories of the characters and its current setting, the first person to swagger in is police officer Victor Franz ( Bret Tuomi ). At first he just seems like a security guard keeping watch over a dilapidated Manhattan pile, but it becomes very clear that Victor previously grew up amid such luxurious items.
Then the plot gets set into motion with the arrival of Victor's wife, Esther ( Kymberly Mellen ), who insists that he get a fair price for the lot of items held onto by his family after they were wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929. Esther initially comes off as being very superficial, especially when she gets upset when Victor reveals that he'll be wearing his police uniform for their night out on the town.
The arrival of elderly antiques dealer Gregory Solomon ( Mike Nussbaum, playing younger than his actual age of 91! ) is the most amusing part of the play as he and Victor chit-chat all the while sizing each other up for the potential transaction. Solomon has seen it all when it comes to family bickering over dividing the estate, and he wisely waits things out once Victor's far more financially successful brother, Walter ( Roderick Peeples ), makes a surprise appearance near the close of Act I.
Watching this quartet hash out a price for the antiques all the while dredging out long-held assumptions and life-long grudges is great dramatic stuff. Yet it's all enhanced when put in context to our own situation of recently weathering the global financial crisis of 2008. The Price looks at how two brothers coped as the inheritors of a confidence-shattering financial crash and how their family loyalties drastically diverged.
By producing The Price now, TimeLine smartly taps into the current debates about income inequality and the value of placing one profession's worth over another. The performances are all great ( save for some shaky delivery of the New York dialects from Mellen ). In particular, it's a wonder to watch Nussbaum hit it out of the park with a performance makes us all wish that we could be as smart, sharp and active at his age.