EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the April 12, 2016 DC Theatre Scene Review of Death of a Salesman By Jayne Blanchard
Willie Loman, you closed the sale the moment you trudged down the aisle of Everyman Theatre, sample suitcases in each hand, shoulders stooped with exhaustion and defeat. You and the others on stage had us all in the palms of your hands, but never gave up, never stopped sealing the deal until the end when we felt every pang of pain you felt, every disappointment, every curdled emotion.
Wil Love’s towering, vigorous portrayal of Willie Loman, a small man with goodness in him, is reason enough to see Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, running in repertory with another postwar American classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, at Everyman. Yet, that is one aspect of an exceptional experience where everything gleams—the acting, the direction, the set, the lighting, the costumes, good God, even the wigs are worth mentioning.
This attention to detail and exhilarating rejuvenation of a classic makes you nostalgic for the days when more regional theaters (like Arena and Center Stage) had resident companies where you could see your favorite and familiar actors stretch and grow into various roles and tried-and-true theatrical warhorses get new life and meaning and the same level of devotion as premiere, attention-grabbing works.
Nostalgia for repertory and resident companies aside, there is not a speck of the old-timey in director Vincent M. Lancisi’s Death of a Salesman.
"It’s bright, vital, urgent."
The biggest user—some might say, abuser—of the optimism drug is Willy Loman, a longtime traveling salesman living in 1949 Brooklyn with his wife Linda (Deborah Hazlett). Although gone for weeks at a time working his territory in New England, Willie’s go-getter attitude pervades every nook and cranny of the house, almost like a bullying ghost who refuses to leave. His presence is most keenly felt in his sons, Biff ( an electrifying Chris Genebach) once a high school football star and big man on campus who now wanders the West lost and untethered, and Happy (Danny Gavigan), who was also raised on his father’s hot air and hyperbole and now is a career philander who kids himself about where he is in life.
In this great American tragedy, Willie’s hubris is hope—something he clings to even when his world is crumbling around him. There’s something both wrenching and noble about Willie when he exclaims to Linda “Biff loves me! How about that?” moments after an excoriating showdown between father and son where Biff (Genebach rips you to shreds in this scene) breaks down in sobs in front of Willie, begging on his knees for him to see his son for who he is and to be freed of his father’s stifling dreams.
Aside from Love’s piercing Willie, Deborah Hazlett brings dignity and clear-eyed passion to the role of wife Linda and nails the “attention must be paid” speech with plainspoken conviction. As the Loman sons, Chris Genebach gives a breakthrough performance as Biff—a young man who lives unmoored and mistake-prone in his dedication not to be the hero his father thinks he is.
Danny Gavigan’s Happy shows the forlorn and comedic aspects of someone who choses philandering as a way of dealing with lack of career success. Gavigan also gives Happy a people-pleasing aspect that shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Telling his mother “I’m getting married, Ma. Just you wait.” you want to snicker but there is something bittersweet about that boast.
Really, everyone is at the top of their game, from Bruce Randolph Nelson in dual roles as Willie’s faithful friend Charley and his unfeeling new boss Howard; Beth Hylton and Megan Anderson as two giggly, crafty tootsies, Drew Kopas as the nerdy and brainy Bernard and Arturo Tolentino as a knowing waiter.
You may think the loss of the American Dream is a modern dilemma—that proud homeownership, a good job, security and upward mobility were there for the taking for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We mourn for that bright promise just as we mourn for Willie Loman, a nobody traveling salesman who thought he was somebody.
But Arthur Miller is there to question if the American Dream was ever valid, ever achievable for the legions of everyday schlubs just out there busting their backs and looking for a break. Is it an opportunity for all Americans or just a cruel tease?