A timeless masterpiece
For those of you on the hunt for a job post-graduation, an interview question you are likely to encounter is, “What is your definition of success?” For Willy Loman, the tragic hero in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the answer to that question would be “to be well-liked.” Stroll down the aisle of any Barnes & Noble and plenty of business advice books will tell you the same thing: In order to “make it” in the business world, all one needs is a rolodex filled with contacts. And yet, in Death of a Salesman, Willy’s downfall is rooted in this need to be popular and well known. Willy’s determination for others to respect him makes him lose all respect for himself. This is a tragic yet poignant reflection of the obscuration of values evident both when this play was written and in society today.
It takes a certain play to last through generations and to resonate to the same degree with an audience almost 60 years after its original opening. Death of a Salesman is one of those masterpieces. First performed on the stage in 1949, this production was directed by Arthur Miller’s son, Hollywood director and producer Robert A. Miller, and is currently being performed by the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Repertory Company.
The play follows the mental deterioration of traveling salesman Willy Loman, who, after working for the same company for 34 years, is still struggling to make a commission. Willy’s schizophrenic behavior and maniacal outbursts, evident from scene one, are so realistic and thrilling that one begins to think actor John Shepard may truly be off the deep end. As theatergoer and Pittsburgh native Carl Kriebel remarked, “His face is fantastic; I’m convinced that he’s actually insane.”
The docile yet endearing character of Linda, the wife of Willy, played by Penelope Miller Lindblom, provides the perfect counter to Willy’s insane outbursts. Although soft-spoken and gentle in her mannerisms, Lindblom conveys Linda as the foundation of the Loman family. She provides the glue that holds together the broken fragments of the relationship between Willy and his eldest son Biff, upon whom Willy has invested all of his hopes and dreams.
The focal point of the stage, a two-story house that is cluttered with various material things — a sled, lamps, and toys — conveys the disarray and turmoil that is penetrating Willy’s thoughts.
Surrounding the home are the lit windows of apartment buildings. Jeanne Drennan, a Pittsburgh resident who has seen Death of a Salesman performed twice before, remarked that “[the set] conveys the claustrophobia in Willy’s mind [and how the] home is hemmed by the demands of life.”
The enclosing apartment windows represent society’s demands on Willy to have the newest radio or a name-brand refrigerator.
The cohesion of the set, the performance of the actors, and the turbulent script make this a remarkable interpretation of Death of a Salesman. Although at times the play is difficult to watch, as Miller makes his audience confront flaws evident in society today, the play should not be missed, particularly if you are still pondering what your answer would be to that interview question.