‘Salesman’ comes to life through timelessness
Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 18:03
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a play about the failed American dream of tragic hero Willy Loman, returns to Broadway under the direction of Academy Award winning filmmaker Mike Nichols (The Graduate), for a masterpiece performance not to be missed.
Pair misguided idealism with a stubborn spirit and Willy Loman comes to mind. Mix wishful thinking with a broken heart and Biff Loman follows.
Cast Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as Willy and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Biff, and fireworks erupt on The Barrymore Theatre stage each night for a mere 13-week run.
With a set designed as a middle-class family house squeezed between rising apartment buildings, the Loman family home shows a dining room leading to the back entrance. Willy enters the first scene from here, wobbling forward, hands laden with two suitcases.
His wife Linda (Linda Emond) soon enters from their simple bedroom and finds her husband distraught from a ride back from Boston. Discussing his condition, soon visible, and their two sons, Biff and Happy (Finn Wittrock) are soon awoken by their father’s loud voice. Just like Willy’s demeanor, rising from a stupor to a scream, the play begins and gradually heats up.
Willy Loman has built his life on lies and the idea that success comes to those who are “well liked.” He even raises his Biff and Happy on the principle, leading them both to the downward spiral he has sunk through himself.
Struggling to hold on to the dear old past, he fails to understand the present and attempts suicide more than once. He hides this from Linda, who loves him deeply even though she knows.
Biff, his pride and joy, is also his biggest disappointment, but it is only revealed in Act Two why this father-son duo had a falling out and only speak in raised voices.
Willy cannot fathom why his star athlete of a son had become nothing after failing math in high school. He refuses to admit it may be due an incident that was entirely his fault, and this strains their relationship so that Biff would rather leave home to work on his own land in the West. Willy despises this and Biff resents him for his upbringing.
Happy, meanwhile, yearns for half the affection his father shows Biff, even in shouting matches, and seems to seek it in women as a lying philanderer instead. Linda loyally stands by her husband, even up against her beloved sons.
Through artfully mastered flashbacks, acted out when Willy imagines the past unfolding right before him, the audience understands the reasons behind the Lomans’s situation. In the end, both sons try to reconcile with their father, but Willy cannot live with his failures and decides to die the death of a salesman, on the road.
Hoffman plays Willy with intense strength and vulnerability, and often delivering his lines with the powerful punch, he is recognized for in his film career. What Garfield lacks in size and height, he makes up for with his heartfelt performance, arguing with potent feeling and breaking down in tears with just as much.