EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the April 10, 2016 DC Metro Theatre Arts Review of Death of a Salesman By Patricia Mitchell
Death of a Salesman is lauded as one of the best American plays of the 20th Century. With Miller’s smart, incisive writing and the graceful way he transports the audience from the here-and-now to inside Willy Loman’s thoughts, memories and dreams, that acclaim is is well-warranted. Everyman’s take on Miller’s masterwork is skillfully balanced. With a spartan set, unassuming costumes and subtlety in both lights and music, the focus necessarily goes to the actors and their dialogue-rich interactions.
Everyman Resident Company Member Wil Love is a powerhouse as beleaguered salesman, Willy Loman. From the moment Love’s feet hit the boards, we are all living in Willy’s world. Loman is commanding and magnetic, drawing his sons, his long-suffering wife, and all those around him into his sphere of gravity. Love sails the bleak ocean between Willy’s real life and the life he’d always imagined for himself. As Willy slips into and out of memories, fantasies, and reality, it would be tempting to play him as washed-up; a victim of an American Dream that was never really meant for him. Instead, Love portrays both the dignity and despair of this classic character, making him relatably human – and all the more tragic for it.
Loman’s wife Linda is played with stoic heroism by Resident Company Member Deborah Hazlett. She is the heart of her family, and its spine. She keeps the family standing upright and imbues it with a battle-hardened love. Hazlett brings Linda to life as a gifted tightrope walker. She keeps her footing despite watching her husband – who she truly loves – move from failure to failure, losing a bit more of himself every time. She keeps the household moving forward, taking care of logistical needs with insufficient resources. She demands that her sons treat their father with respect regardless of his diminished state and the shabby way he treats her. She is the postwar woman of the 1940s, toeing the line as a demure lady, yet as strong and solid as the house she cares for.
Though Chris Genebach, who plays Biff Loman, is not an Everyman company member, you’d never know it. His connection and chemistry with the other actors and the vulnerability he brings to his character would make you think he’d been working with these folks for ages. Genebach’s Biff struggles with a timeless dilemma. A “34-year-old boy,” he embodies uncertainty as he tries to decide whether he can live an authentic life he’d enjoy or if he must finally lash his fate to the ephemeral American Dream he sees destroying so many of his loved ones. Does he become the man his father wants him to be? It didn’t work out for his dad. Is he even capable of that? At a time when so many citizens are reconsidering what it means to be an American in the 21st century, Genebach hits all the right notes with this character who is as relevant today as when he first hit Broadway in 1949.
Biff’s brother Happy, played by Resident Company Member Danny Gavigan, is also wonderful to watch. He ably displays the internal tension that comes from loving Willy and Biff while also knowing that his relationship with them would always take a back seat to their relationship with each other. He’s a study in what we accept as fulfilling when what we really want is unavailable to us.
It’s not easy to make a complicated thing look simple. It takes a top-notch Artistic Team to create the environment these talented actors will inhabit. Set Designer Daniel Ettinger, for example, had to consider not only what were the best aesthetic and utilitarian choices for Death of a Salesman, he also needed to factor in the short changeover time available for switching the set to Streetcar and back. Ettinger handles this task admirably. The stark world he creates for Death of a Salesman works so well that you’d never suspect the set consists of giant puzzle pieces that, when reconfigured, will create the lusher, more homey set of the Tennessee Williams piece premiering next week.
It’s not often you have the opportunity to recognize a Wig Designer in a theater review, so I’m taking my chance while I’ve got it. Denise O’Brien did such a fantastic job that when I read that 14 wigs were used in Death of a Salesman, I was shocked. That’s really the test of a good wig designer, right? To have their work incorporate so organically into the show that you don’t even realize it’s there? Well done.
Major kudos are due to Vincent Lancisi, who, as Founding Artistic Director of Everyman Theatre, was the architect of The Great American Rep. Additionally serving as Director of Death of a Salesman, he elicited outstanding performances from his cast. Lancisi should be proud of not just this first-rate show, but of founding a company that would make the joy and beauty of theater accessible not only to veteran lovers of the arts, but also to many who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience professional theater.
With its exceptional design, direction, and pitch-perfect performances by its cast, Everyman Theatre’s riveting production of Death of a Salesman should be at the top of your ‘Must See List.’ Give yourself a gift to celebrate Everyman’s 25th birthday and pick up tickets to The Great American Rep. And here’s to another 25 years of Great Stories, Well Told.