by: Sandi Durell
If you have the opportunity to see the Pulitzer Prize winning “Death of a Salesman,” currently at the Barrymore Theatre, there is no doubt that you will come away with the knowledge of having witnessed one of the most brilliant plays ever written by an American playwright, Arthur Miller, and directed by a genius, Mike Nichols.
Are there flaws? Yes. But they are overshadowed by the intensity of the acting skills of this A-1 cast. This revival is a story that is ever-relevant about Willy Loman, a sorrowful, dejected salesman, whose mind is unfocused, is delusional and in constant battle with his older son Biff, ultimately having given both his sons inaccurate life signals. Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the stoop-shouldered heartbreaking Willy who is never at peace, especially in his relationship with Biff, the older son whom he continually dreams will fulfill his visions of success, which are skewed.
Biff, played by rising star Andrew Garfield(Peter Parker in the upcoming film “The Amazing Spider-Man”), doesn’t seem old enough to portray this once physically athletic football high school hero because he’s not a broad, burly type. But he soon manages to overcome physicality with sheer emotional intensity as he shares his dreams with his womanizing younger brother Happy (Finn Wittrock) and they talk about their fears as they witness their father’s disintegration.
The bickering between father and son Biff always raises motherly protective instincts in Mrs. Loman (Linda Emond), who comes to her son’s defense until, in Act II, she finally pleads on Willy’s behalf. Her relationship with her husband is fraught with worries and suffering as she observers his decline, mentally and physically. The feeling in the last scene at the grave site seems more orchestrated than emotionally driven.
The most mesmerizing performances occur with Garfield’s gut wrenching breakdown finding Willy in the hotel room with the unclad woman buyer, a definitive theatrical moment, and in the final moments with Willy: “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!”
The set, by Jo Mielziner, is a duplicated version of the original. There are fine performances by younger boss Howard (Remy Auberjonois) in the office face-off scene; neighbor and friend Charley (Bill Camp), who slips Willy money, and Charley’s son Bernard (Fran Kranz) are each noteworthy. Willy’s throwback scenes with his brother Ben (the Africa adventurer who, at 21, made his fortune in the diamond mines), is fabulous, especially when acted by John Glover, dressed in a safari suit (costumes by Ann Roth). Lighting is superbly created by Brian MacDevitt. The musical background comes to life as the original.
“Death of a Salesman” is theatre at its finest.
Photo: Brigette Lacombe