Death of a Salesman is a great play. Unfortunately this is not a great production. If you’ve always wanted to see Arthur Miller’s classic play performed and you are in the area, by all means check it out. There are some really good aspects of the production. And when it comes down to it, it’s such a great play that you will be rewarded. It’s always hard to review a community theater production. There are times when they rise to the level of a professional theater, and when they don’t it’s understandable, because they are not. Bottom line is that whether it’s a professional or a community theater it has to be worth your time. Most productions have things that work and things that do not, as is the case here. This is not at the level of a professional staging, but you are also not paying $50 to $100 for your tickets either. Your decision to take this in needs to be based on your desire to see the play performed.
Miller’s play, written in 1949, won both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play. It tells the story of Willy Loman, a 63 year old salesman who lives in New York but his territory is New England. He is also beginning to show the signs of dementia. He has returned home having failed to make it to Maine, because he nearly drove off the road. He is tired, he is confused, and his mind keeps wandering to the past. His wife Linda is worried about him, his two sons Biff and Happy are home. Biff, 34, is a lost man. He has come home after tramping around working various jobs, most recently as a farmhand. Happy works in the city and is just staying over. We follow the family over the course of two days. Willy and Biff can hardly talk for two minutes before it erupts into either an argument or egotistical delusion. There are a lot of different themes at play here and I think the further we get from the time period of the plays setting, the late 1940’s, the more the play has to say about the changing world. But there is also a theme ripe to be exploited about the idea of saying what you want to be true, whether it is or not, and getting to the point where you and others just believe it because you said it was so. The text is so full of themes and ideas and subtext. It looks at how we say one thing and do another, it explores the role of ego, family dynamics, life, death, aging, the value of work.
Bruce Abas plays Willy and he’s the most solid in the cast. Abas anchors the play while giving a convincing embodiment of someone who has become unmoored in the sea of his memories. Also doing solid work is Corey Boe as Biff, he has some powerful moments and when he gets to those he sucks us in. It struggles though with the flashback scenes as a gee whiz high schooler, all the men who have to play their characters as adults and teenagers struggle with the younger version. Not as good is Kari Steinbach, who didn’t feel rehearsed enough. I recently saw her in Marjorie Prime so I know she is capable of a better performance. She stumbled over lines a few times but so do several of the performers.
Which leads me to what I think were the areas that didn’t work. The shortcomings of the production are primarily backstage. It felt like Director Brian P. Joyce needed another week of rehearsal and a clearer vision of what he wanted to do. Many scenes seem poorly staged, the transitions in Willy’s mind between the present and the past were weakly handled. The lighting design by Shannon Elliot should have assisted in that, but instead it’s hampering other scenes. There is a scene where Happy stands on a bed to deliver a line. During that line most of his head and face are unlit. It’s like he literally got too high on the set and there were no lights that could be pointed at him. We also have moments when characters at the front of the stage are not lit enough. Costume Designer Bronson Talcott has the characters in costumes that are ill fitting and damaged. Biff’s Letterman jacket is seperated at the waist, Willy’s suit is poorly patched. I did like Set design by Michaela Lochen, though I was unaware of Happy’s presence in his first scenes, because from my seats I couldn’t see he was up there, so the set may have been too forward and tall for the first few rows. Overall it just seemed rushed, characters missed queues, missed lines, a character answered a phone that kept ringing after it was picked up.
This isn’t a bad production, it just isn’t that good, faint praise I know, but it’s my way of saying if you want to see this show performed you will get something out of it. Death of a Salesman runs through April 3rd for more information or to purchase tickets go to https://www.lakeshoreplayers.org/death-of-a-salesman.
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