Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Death of a Salesman

(photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)

Willy Loman - Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Linda Loman - Linda Edmond
Biff Loman - Andrew Garfield
Happy Loman - Finn Wittrock
Ben - John Glover
Charley - Bill Camp
Bernard - Fran Kranz
Howard Wagner - Remy Auberjonois
Stanley - Glenn Fleshler
Miss Forsythe - Stephanie Janssen
Second Waiter - Barry Koed
Jenny - Kathleen McNenny
Letta - Elizabeth Morton
The Woman - Molly Price

Director - Mike Nichols

I haven't been to the theater in years but last Saturday I attended the final performance of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman on Broadway.

I've never seen the play before and my only exposure to Arthur Miller was reading The Crucible in college. Perhaps I made the mistake of reading too many reviews before going to the show, but this tragedy, which was well acted, seemed more of an intellectual exercise rather than a heartfelt response to the powerful script.

As mentioned elsewhere, Hoffman's character seemed to be suffering from a nervous disorder - dementia and perhaps bipolar rage - and therefore his fate did not have a mythic, pre-destined feel. I also didn't sense much of a connection between him and his sons, even in the flashback scenes.

Garfield as Biff Loman had a magnetic stage presence but seemed to be acting in a vacuum even with Wittrock who played is brother Happy Loman. Edmond was fine as the alienated wife - perhaps her character felt the most real because the lack of rapport among the cast members worked to her advantage.

My impression was that of top notch auditions spliced together rather than truly organic ensemble acting. The beautiful stage design, which was recreated from the original 1949 production, perhaps set the tone for the dutiful, by-the-book characterizations.

Like all good myths, however, the play's archetypes still resonate, and there's something to be said about seeing this work for the first time pretty much as Arthur Miller had envisioned it. Perhaps I should thank the director for that.

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