Theater Review: Death of a Salesman
Performed by the Dallas Theater Center
at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre
© The Flash List | April 26, 2010
Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
There is an ancient proverb that states, “hope deferred makes the heart sick”, a clear example of which is Arthur Miller’s 1949 Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play The Death of a Salesman.
It is the story of Willy Loman, a 63-year-old traveling salesman who is exhausted from a life of desperately striving for success and the “possibility for better things”. Determined that he is “vital in New England” and refusing any inclination that he is just “a dime a dozen”, Willy is nevertheless haunted by the mistakes of his past and struggles with the regret of missed opportunity.
Jeffrey DeMunn (known for his film roles in The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and television’s Law & Order) was outstanding as Willy, bringing the audience right alongside for every heart-wrenching step of his roller coaster journey. We shared in his optimism and hope, while simultaneously feeling the sting of every emotional punch in the gut he took. After working for the same company for 36 years only to still be making payments on the same old house and refrigerator, Willy’s mental state deteriorates leaving him confused about the past and present and wondering if his life insurance policy will make him worth more dead than alive.
Shifting back and forward through different time periods, we see alternating and concurrent scenes of Willy along with his wife and two boys in nostalgic glimpses of earlier, happier days when they were full of vigor and strength and dreams. It is in this scenario that the Wyly Theater gives us yet another variation in the flexibility of the Potter Rose Performance Hall. Despite offering large stage with a thrust; the theater felt much very like the intimate black box studio on the Wyly’s 6th floor (where The Beauty Plays are currently running). Characters from Willy’s past appear and leave through narrow openings in the stage’s back wall, and the use of only a few simple props (an unadorned bed, a simple table, a modest refrigerator, etc.) serves to magnify the intensity of the actors.
Matthew Gray gives an incredibly spirited performance as both the young and adult versions of Biff, Willy’s free spirited and idealistic son, whose bitterness toward his father’s indiscretions keep him bound in a life of mediocrity and frustration. Conversely, Cedric Neal plays Happy, a womanizing romantic who idolizes his father, failing to recognize his flaws. The brothers are juxtaposed in that one has too much information about his father, the other not enough.
Sally Nystuen Vahle (Assistant Professor of Acting and Voice at UNT and known for her roles at DTC as well as in television’s Walker Texas Ranger and Wishbone) was absolutely spectacular as Linda Loman, Willy’s devoted wife who spends her life fervently and faithfully supporting her husband and who vehemently defends his honor even against her own sons.
The play is an important part of the fabric of American life running repeatedly somewhere in the world since its premiere in 1949. The acting in this production is absolutely fantastic, and the most profound development in this story turns out to be our own as the understanding of (and the empathy felt for) each character continually deepens over the course of the play. So as always, be sure to stay late and stick around after the show for a discussion with members of the cast about this award winning masterpiece.