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Sunday, 25 March 2012 12:23

Broadway Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Written by
Andrew Garfield, Finn Wittrock, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Linda Emond (l-r) Andrew Garfield, Finn Wittrock, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Linda Emond (l-r) Photo: Brigitte Lancombe

It is infrequent that I feel compelled to stand up during a curtain call.  Standing ovations have come to be associated with any mediocre theatrical performance.  There is no longer anything meaningful about standing ovations when standing ceases to be the recognition of something special.

That said, there is nothing that can compare to an organically induced standing ovation where the audience rises out of the emotion of the moment. At last evening’s performance of Death of a Salesman, the curtain was barely down, and a crack of light just escaped from underneath the rising curtain, when the house was on their feet, rising as one.  This audience was rewarding masterful performances by skilled actors in Arthur Miller’s timeless American classic.

But perhaps it was more?  It could have been because they connected with Willie Loman in a way that previous audiences haven’t since the play first premiered in 1949.  The idea that there has to be something more, or if you work hard enough, or if people like you enough, then you can’t fail, is the illusion that this salesman has sold himself.  This is the delusion of today’s dying middle class.  After these past several years, the average American probably identifies strongly with Willie Loman’s struggles.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is understated and intense as Willie Loman. Linda Emond is Willie’s love-blind, faithful wife, Linda.  Both look too young for the roles, but this is forgotten almost instantaneously as Hoffman embodies the beaten down salesman whose loyalty no longer matters and whose past deeds are but distant memories that matter only to someone who is no longer alive.  Ms. Emond is persuasive as the ever-optimistic enabler of Willie's frequent delusions.

As Willie’s two sons, Happy and Biff, Finn Wittrock and Andrew Garfield, respectively, are perfect replicas of their father.  Both gentlemen give nuanced and effective performances as the physical fruits of their father’s inconsequential life.  John Glover’s performance as Willie’s manifestation of his successful brother, Ben, is enthused with the conviction of Willie’s own salesmanship.

In his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller says “I had known all along that this play could not be encompassed by conventional realism and for one integral reason: in Willie the past was as alive as what was happening at the moment, sometimes even crashing in to completely overwhelm his mind.”  Mike Nichols magnificent direction embodies this idea, smoothly transitioning from past to present with a deft hand.  Brian MacDevitt’s evocative lighting further facilitates the transitions in Willie’s mind.

One of the stars in this play is the Loman house itself, always looming in the background.  The Tony-winning scenic design for this production is by Jo Mielziner from the original 1949 production.  It perfectly suits the play’s need to move effortlessly between the reality of the Loman house to the scene’s enacted in Willie’s head.  The playing space is limited but serves to increase the fluidity of those blurred lines.  This scenic design was so integral to the original production that, to quote Elia Kazan (the play’s original director) in his autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life, “Art rewrote the stage direction for the book based on Jo’s design.”

You will never see a more important, timely or relevant production of Death of a Salesman, attention must be paid.  You only have sixteen weeks (through June 2nd) to see this production, don’t wait until it is too late.

Last modified on Thursday, 05 April 2012 10:31