“Death of a Salesman” preview re-view February, 2012

From the silent weary entrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman in the opening scene of Mike Nichol’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” it is clear that “attention must be paid” to the gravity and scale of one small life.

Miller’s play expresses and exposes the tragedies taking place throughout this country today.  The tragedies of promised dreams unfulfilled, tragedies of lives destroyed by flaws, denial, disappointment and lies.

My father, Walt, was a milkman at the moment that milk routes were deemed no longer profitable by the companies.  Instead of bearing the cost of the change, they sold the milk routes to the men as a promise of the American dream of owning their own business.  However, they also had to purchase the products from the company, while paying down additional debt to the company for the trucks, losing their benefits as newly self-employed, and working themselves beyond their strength in the inexorable march to bankruptcy.

Miller alludes to the changes named progress that leave workers behind, focusing instead on Willy’s confusion and delusion.  Willy prizes being well liked without perceiving how others perceive him.  He confuses the road with freedom.

I saw the play at a preview performance. The claustrophobia induced by the set, staging and the isolation of the unseen bedroom served the play well and echoed the play’s earlier set design.  The disconnect between Willy and Linda in this production from performance and direction, and the fact that Andrew Garfield had not yet found his way into the role of Biff, did not serve well.

A respectful revival —  but it was Hoffman’s sometimes subtle, sometimes lurching movements between big dreams and self-loathing, between reality shared and reality conjured that was deep and transfixing.  From his first entrance, all the Walt Lockwoods and Willy Lomans were represented.  His performance was speaking the truth of Miller’s text through the text to the issues and decades beyond it.

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