Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is often touted as a rather depressing, long-winded play with a bad ending. But this production is a pleasant surprise.
In britches, long socks, pink dressing gowns and singlets, they fought, they laughed, they loved and they hated. It was family life. It was you and I. It was compelling.
Mix more than a little dysfunctionality, the pursuit of the post-war American dream, identity crises and the uncertainties of free enterprise with some commendable local acting talent, and you certainly have a tonic for the soul.
Set in the late 1940s in Yonkers, New York, and Boston, Arts Theatre’s production cleverly contains the sweep of action and past-present time shifts with grace and ease. The sets of two bedrooms and a kitchen/dining room reflect the confinement of a family in turmoil and effortlessly accommodate small set changes.
Gordon Shaw as Uncle Ben had obviously decided against an American accent and delivered his lines in broad Aussie to no detriment. The rest of the cast used an uncomfortable mix of Aussie-American.
Almost flawless performances by Ray Swenson as Willy Loman and Matt Rossner as Biff are assisted by an accomplished Adrienne Morgan as Linda Loman and excellent supporting actors who are well cast. Veteran Dick Spring as Uncle Charley provides his outstanding talent as the comic respite (that you weren’t supposed to enjoy too much but really did) as Willy’s only friend and confidante.
Director Jack Hollingworth’s interpretation collapses the years and opens your heart to a timeless and timely play about a salesman who sells his soul and sacrifices his family along the way. It’s about sluggish awakenings, the importance of fighting back and the joy and suffering this brings.
Australian men may find this a little close for comfort. It is, after all, unpopular for a man to be seen as vulnerable and introspective.
Whether or not you know the story, this production is worth seeing it stands on its own merits.