Theater Review: "Death Of A Salesman" On Broadway
Here's the bad news: I still don't like "Death of a Salesman." I think the first act is boring and has too many monologues with too little going on to let the show really be an enjoyable experience. It's not that I don't like American tragedies (I adored Sydney Theatre Company's "A Streetcar Named Desire" a few years back, and I quite liked both "Next Fall" and "Good People" at the Geffen), but I just don't particularly like the play. I was lured in by the promise of a stellar cast in this revival, and I have to commend them for bringing me as close to liking the show as I think I ever will.
For the surely vast minority of you who somehow escaped studying the play in high school and/or college, "Death of a Salesman" follows a traveling salesman, Willy Loman (Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote") as his life deteriorates and eventually ends (it's not a spoiler if it's in the title, right?). We see his pursuit of the American Dream (embodied by his brother, Ben, played by John Glover) and how that affects his wife, the doormat-like Linda (Linda Emond), his sons, Biff (Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network") and Happy (Finn Wittrock), and those around him.
There's an air of desperation that pervades director Mike Nichols' production. It's fitting, as everyone is desperate in their own way, just some people hide it better than others. The show really picks up steam in the second act, as the formerly simmering events really start to come to a boil, if you'll excuse my extended cooking metaphor. This is particularly noticeable with both Willy and Biff, whose altercations keep escalating to the point where they become deliciously unbearable—one can't help but wonder how much worse it can get, yet it always manages to deteriorate.
Hoffman and Garfield, the two "names" in the cast, turn in the two strongest performances of the show, and the best performances I've seen in a while. While Hoffman's Willy occasionally comes off as rote, it works with the character; Willy is a man who has lived in the same routine for countless years. Garfield, on the other hand, is brimming with vitality, and both he and Hoffman bring everything they have to the stage and unceremoniously leave it there. It's a privilege to see them undergoing such utter catharsis right before our very eyes.
The technical elements of the show are all very well done, with especially good scenic design, by Jo Mielziner, and costume design, by Ann Roth.
I don't know what I'd make of this revival of "Death of a Salesman" if I liked the play to begin with, but as that is a nonissue, I have to give credit Mr. Nichols and his company for taking a play I greatly dislike and turning it into an ultimately rewarding experience.
For 2012 Tony Awards coverage, click here.