I can’t count how many productions I’ve seen of “Death of a Salesman” over the years — including, of course, the inevitable movie that packs the theater whenever or wherever it plays.
So to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that anxious to see it again.
Written by the legendary playwright, Arthur Miller, it walked away with both a 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama and a Tony-Award as Best Play of the year. Now recognized as one of the best dramas written during the 20th Century, “Death of a Salesman” has become an American classic, and is produced all over the world.
Although it’s been 66 years since it opened on Broadway, the Long Beach Playhouse has never staged it. So when push came to shove, in spite of any inner qualms or doubts, I changed my mind and became motivated to see it.
In three words, “I lucked out!” In six words: “Don’t miss this LBP powerful production!” In a sentence: “Under Andrew Vonderschmitt’s artistic direction, the LBP board has found the courage to push open the door and produce more exciting, risk-taking theater instead of safe, middle-of-the-road projects.”
“Salesman” is a demanding work that requires sensitive direction and a well-seasoned cast. Nuance and timing are absolutely essential, because the plotline flits back and forth from the past to the present with a singular look at the world — one that defined the American point of view (the positive, ever-smiling, “good ol’ boy” perspective) that was so prevalent after World War II. All of it is exemplified and beautifully embodied by one iconic salesman named Willy Loman.
With Carl daSilva directing Miller’s tense drama, and Karl Schott in the demanding role of a self-deluded salesman whose life has been one lie after another, the cast is flawless. In fact, I couldn’t believe it; every actor on the LBP Mainstage is incredible.
Throughout his life, Willie Loman has stubbornly held onto his need to be liked — so much so, that he makes excuses for everything bad that happens to him or his two sons. He misjudges what needs to be done, and when the boys screw up, he makes excuses for them. John Conway and Zachary Salene are outstanding as Biff and Happy.
Willy also takes his wife’s love and protection for granted. Harriet Whitmyer is superb as Willy’s devoted, long-suffering wife. She knows her husband’s faults, but overlooks them because of her love for him.
When he winds up past his prime, penniless, and out of a job — even then he can’t see the truth, because of the mountain of lies his life has been built upon. On stage every minute, Schott’s portrayal of Willy is totally convincing; in fact his performance is phenomenal.
We can’t end this review without mentioning Skip Blas, a favorite LBP actor who plays Ben. Willy spends much of his time conversing with his successful, dead brother, who struck it rich by mining diamonds three decades ago in Africa.
Performances of Miller’s masterpiece continue on weekends through June 20 at the Long Beach Playhouse. For tickets, call (562) 494-1014.