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For all his fame, Arthur Miller was never all that commercially successful. Only two of his plays, “Death of a Salesman” and “The Price,” ran for more than a year on Broadway, and “The Price,” though it was telecast on NBC in 1971 and continues to receive occasional high-profile revivals, isn’t nearly as well known as “Salesman.” So when Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre Company announced that it was staging “The Price” and that the cast would include Mike Nussbaum, I knew I had to be there. Mr. Nussbaum (who is, believe it or not, 91 years old) isn’t widely known outside his home town, but he’s one of America’s best character actors. I’ve seen him in everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim, and he’s always knocked me flat. This time, however, he’s outdone himself—though not at the expense of the production, which is so unremittingly taut that I found it all but impossible to look away from the stage long enough to scribble notes on what I was seeing. Maybe that’s the definition of a really good show: one that Mr. Nussbaum can’t steal because everybody else in the cast is as good as he is….
Part of what makes “The Price” so good is that Miller somehow managed to steer clear of the bloviatory sermonizing of his other plays, “Salesman” in particular. He claimed long after the fact that it was really an allegory of America’s involvement in Vietnam, but if so, he covered his symbolic tracks so carefully that it’s hard to see what he meant. Far from being obviously political, “The Price” is a life study of the power of unacknowledged pride to corrode family ties, and though the last 15 minutes are a bit stagy, that doesn’t make them any less riveting.
Louis Contey, who directed TimeLine’s marvelously low-keyed 2010 production of “Frost/Nixon,” has worked no less subtle wonders with “The Price.” I’ve never seen four actors listen so closely to their onstage colleagues: They seem to hang on one another’s words, thereby drawing you into the sticky web of mistrust in which their characters are trapped….
Jeff Whitty’s “Head Over Heels” is a new jukebox musical in which the punkish power-pop songs of the Go-Go’s (“We Got the Beat”) are made to serve as musical accompaniment to an extremely free verse adaptation of “Arcadia,” Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th-century pastoral romance, whose sexy plot has a startlingly modern feel. I relished the ingeniousness with which Mr. Whitty has slotted the songs into the unfolding dramatic action, and Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s production is frisky and genial. Not so, alas, the book, unless you go in for Ye Olde Renaissance Faire iambic-pentameter humor…
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To read my review of The Price, go here.
To read my review of Head Over Heels, go here.
A scene from TimeLine Theatre’s production of The Price: