The past is evoked not just by the memories of Willy Loman’s lost opportunities but by the astute taste of director Mike Nichols who very wisely and shrewdly has used Jo Mielziner’s original skeletal-house set design and Alex North’s original melancholy score as the foundation for his simply yet beautifully staged and brutally honest revival of Arthur Miller’s timeless 1949 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning “Death of a Salesman”.
Ann Roth has supplied costumes that evoke the period and compliment the original design scheme. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design adds beautifully to the spanning in time atmosphere.
Blending past and present seamlessly as if we are watching a cinematic version of this modern tragedy on stage of the Barrymore Theatre of a man slowly unraveling before our eyes Mike Nichols weaves a magical spell that has the audience riveted from the onset when Philip Seymour Hoffman as the strapped and exhausted Willy Loman enters, slumped over, carrying his suitcases of samples that he had been trying to sell – to hold on to his job – on the road as the New England rep – a territory that he has covered for over thirty years.
He’s dead tired. He owes money. The bills continue to mount. He’s been having too many accidents with his car. His devoted wife Linda (a superb Linda Emond) encourages him to speak to his boss, Howard Wagner (a terse Remy Auberjonois) so that he can work locally and not have to travel any longer.
His two sons, who are no longer college kids, have returned home. Happy (boyishly sexy Finn Wittrock) is “a philandering bum” good with the talk and with the gals. Biff (an extraordinarily gifted Andrew Garfield) a once golden athlete that hasn’t amounted to much after he failed math in high school and went to see his father in Boston when his eyes were opened to his dad’s failings and has never recovered. Denial seems to be the middle name for all involved.
Mr. Hoffman, despite coming across as a tad youthful carries all the burdens of the years on his back. Wandering and wondering and dreaming of what might have been for him, his wife and family. Almost numb he begins. Monotone increasing to bitter arguments as he grows increasingly desperate. Always denying the truth. Always wanting to be liked. Always not getting what he thinks he deserves.
His very successful brother Ben (John Glover) makes Willy regret not going off with him when he could have. Scenes in the past and in his mind show the sad progression of his downward spiral where suicide seems to be the only way out.
The entire supporting ensemble is excellent. Molly Price as “The Woman” in Boston makes an incredible impression in this small but very important role. Willy’s neighbor, Charley whom he is always borrowing money from is humorously played by Bill Camp and his son Bernard (Fran Kranz) who turns from math nerd to Supreme Court legal eagle is exceptional. All in all a wonderful revival of a timeless play. Attention has been paid to every detail.
www.deathofasalesmanbroadway.com Photo: Brigette Lacombe for NY Magazine
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