Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Death of A Salesman"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

"Death of A Salesman"

by Arthur Miller
Directed by Laura Schrader-Johnson

Original Music by Peter Bufano
Solo Flute Laura Kandziolka
Producers Sandi McDonald & Paul O'Shaughnessey
Set Design by Laura Schrader-Johnson
Costume Design by Diana Kane
Lighting Design by Jay Mooney
Sound by Glenn W. Kane
Properties Darrick Jackson
Stage Manager Bogusia Wojciechowska
Back Stage Manager Jen Palange

Willy Loman..............Waldo Fielding
Linda.............................Anna Brown
Happy............................Marc Harpin
Biff................................Matt Malone
Bernard.......................Larry Shinman
The Woman......Molly Brandenberger
Charlie..............................Ron Green
Uncle Ben...................Stephen Russo
Howard Wagner........Jim Cannizzaro
Jenny............................Heather Holt
Miss Forsythe..................Dana Jones
Letta.........................Michelle Binetti

Laura Schrader-Johnson had read "Death of A Salesman" back in college. She designed a 3-quarter thrust set for the Footlight Club production and intended to be the show's producer --- until the show's intended director disappeared. And then, somehow, she gave the company a rivetingly moving production in which every single nuance and note in this classic script is perfectly struck. Despite the play's fame almost as a fixture in the American soul, this cast makes it totally new and compellingly, shatteringly alive. And they did it despite having the last days of their rehearsals blighted by the bombings in New York city.

Who says there are no miracles in theater?

Aside from the set --- which places the Loman living-room in the center of the audience, with the upstairs bedroom for Willy's sons back over the Footlight Club's main stage --- the most innovative touch here is Laura Kandziolka's haunting flute solos that introduce or accompany scenes in the play. Willy says his father played, made and sold flutes, before he disappeared into Alaska, but I've never seen a production underline that fact so eloquently.

Seeming new as well is the interpretation of Willy's wife. Anna Brown's Linda, functioning often as a concerned narrator, is the home-maker, the housewife, the helpmeet, the supporter, the cheerleader, the mother, the nag. She is proud of her man, of her men, and reflective of their glories as they see them --- one who helps, not one who does, but frustrated and desperate when Willy's world, and theirs, fall apart.

The younger son Happy is new here too, for Marc Harpin is not the neglected family buffoon, but a grown-up child --- an unsatisfied sexual athlete, an accomplished white-liar willingly, eagerly lying to himself about himself; part of the family yet always out of its limelight.

That family limelight falls on Biff, the darling boy. Matt Malone's self-destructing elder son is still hale and handsome, tall as an elm tree, towering over his shrunken, white-haired father, shouting the ugly truth at an old man who "never knew who he was."

But even when any of these takes center-stage, it's not themselves but Willy Loman they are talking about. Waldo Fielding IS Willy Loman, a man at the end of his useful life --- 63 and fired after giving 34 years of his life on the road, selling, to a company tossing him aside because he can no longer pull his weight. And in this production the audience packed in and around that thrust stage are inside poor Willy's mind with him, seeing the past as real as today, watching his hopes and dreams eaten hollow by his illusions and exaggerations --- by the very things that made him a success as a salesman, a failure as a father and as a man.

The people around the Lomans are more matter-of-fact: Stephen Russo as the fantasy millionaire-uncle Willy regrets not following to a fortune in was it Alaska? was it Africa? Ron Green as his solidly no-nonsense neighbor ("You're my only real friend, Charley"); Jim Cannizzaro as the new-generation boss telling this hasbeen salesman the economic facts of life; Larry Shiman as Charley's nerdly son ("Bernard's liked, but not well-liked") who grows up not having to tell people he's arguing a case before the Supreme Court "because he's going to Do It". In every case, the details are telling.

But there are roles well-played with even less to work with: Molly Brandenberger as the laughing woman in Boston assuaging Willy's on-the-road loneliness, Heather Holt as all those secretary/waitress/receptionists, and Dana Jones and Michelle Binetti as a pretty pair of opportunities for Happy Loman to score his sexual charm. Even Danny Magoun as a chatty chop-house waiter strikes just the right balance between affable and obsequious.

Because in this production, oddly enough, there are no stars. The story is Willy's, but it's the interlacing action between these characters, the reticence and flaring tempers and sudden admissions of total despair amid all the subtly etched bravado, loyalty and love that bathes the stage in brilliance. After this continually new journey through an old man's heroically misguided life, it is the moment when Linda Loman finally cries for her dead beloved Willy that allows the entire audience to cry, with her, for ourselves.


"Death of A Salesman" (21 September - 6 October)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN, MA
1 (617) 524-3200 1(617)524-6506

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