EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the May 5, 2016 Wall Street journal Review of Death of a Salesman By Terry Teachout
Old-fashioned repertory theater, in which a resident ensemble of actors performs a varied group of plays that are mounted in regular rotation, is so much a thing of the past that unless you frequent summer festivals—or major opera houses—you’re not likely ever to have seen it in action. It costs too much for most regional companies even to consider maintaining a permanent or semi-permanent resident acting ensemble, and without the existence of such an ensemble, rotating repertory is impractical to the point of impossibility. Instead we typically get productions in which actors and designers are thrown together on an ad-hoc basis to do shows that run for a month or so, after which a brand-new team of artists is assembled to rehearse and perform a brand-new show.
It makes perfect sense to do “Salesman” and “Streetcar” in this way, not least because the two plays, for all their obvious differences, have much in common: Both are dramas of domestic discontent, part naturalistic and part poetic, that opened on Broadway in groundbreaking productions that were directed by Elia Kazan, designed by Jo Mielziner and accompanied by the incidental music of Alex North. Yet Everyman is, so far as anyone seems to know, the first company in the world ever to present them in rotating repertory, and having recently seen both productions in close succession, I can assure you that to do so is a powerfully stirring experience, one that will stick with you for a long time to come.
A powerfully stirring experience, one that will stick with you for a long time to come.
Since “Death of a Salesman” opened first, I’ll put off discussing “Streetcar” until next week and concentrate instead on the considerable virtues of Vincent M. Lancisi’s “Salesman” staging, which is traditional in the best possible way. Mr. Lancisi has steered clear of the high-concept road favored by Ivo van Hove in his recent Broadway revivals of “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge.” His “Salesman” is Miller’s “Salesman,” played out with absolute and admirable transparency on a skeletal two-story set designed by Daniel Ettinger that is unmistakably reminiscent (though not slavishly so) of the original Broadway production. The scale of the acting is as modest as that of Everyman’s 250-seat auditorium: Wil Love, who plays Willy Loman, appears to be the shortest man in the cast, and his performance, by turns querulous and ingratiating, is the living embodiment of one of Willy’s most striking lines, “I still feel—kind of temporary about myself.” Unlike Lee J. Cobb, who created the role of Willy in 1949 and portrayed him as a giant crushed beneath the boulder of fate, Mr. Love makes him utterly, touchingly ordinary, an approach seconded by the other members of the cast.
The signal advantage of this approach is that it offsets the fundamental flaw of “Salesman,” which is Miller’s lifelong weakness for pseudo-poetic sentiment. Play it too big and it comes off sounding inflated. Let the hot air out and the result is a different, truer poetry, the kind that arises from simply showing life as it is. That’s what Messrs. Love and Lancisi and their on- and offstage collaborators have done:
They’ve given us a “Salesman” that is blessedly devoid of ornament or ostentation, one so understated that it feels not so much acted as lived.
I last saw “Death of a Salesman” performed four years ago in a Broadway revival directed by Mike Nichols that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Linda Emond, and was performed on an exact replica of the set used in the original 1949 production. That “Salesman” was unforgettable—but so is this one.