Thursday, May 19, 2016

ArtsWest Presents Exquisite "Death of a Salesman"

Kyle Anton Johnson, David Pichette, Drew Highlands in Death of a Salesman (Michael Brunk)
Death of a Salesman
ArtsWest
Through May 29, 2016

I can’t say I wasn’t a bit skeptical when I heard that ArtsWest was planning to mount Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in their season. It just didn’t seem like a play that fit all that well into their oeuvre, nor was I sure that it was a classic that stood the test of time all the way to now.

That was before I saw the production that slayed me with its precision and relevance! This is a stunning effort!

There are still two more weekends to see this play, and to see David Pichette play Willie Loman at the exact right moment in Pichette’s career. He is heartbreaking, alternately optimistic and caustic, and no holds barred either way.
 
Director Mathew Wright commands a spare staging (I’m beginning to recognize a Christopher Mumaw set when I see one) with meticulous touches. The set looks like it used to be shining and upscale but has worn down as everything tends to do.

The supporting cast, particularly a delicate performance from Eleanor Moseley as wife Linda, who supports her husband through every mood, even the abusive ones, and a conflicted love/hate relationship from Drew Highlands as son Biff, bring the rest of the play to life.

Wright has decided that the whole cast must watch the entire play from the edges of the stage, with one exception – Allan Armstrong as Uncle Ben. That decision certainly doesn’t hurt the play, but it is not clear that it helps it in any significant degree. But it did make me wonder why that one actor was not, at any point, seated watching the show.

However, the rest of the production is so well executed that this aspect fades as the actors portray this family, centered on a striver who always makes everything bigger than it is. Willie is the ultimate salesman – and he is so good at it that he sells his sons a bill of goods about life. They both admire and reflect him and also fail to live up to the heightened expectations he sets of them.

Of course we can understand him: we have a living breathing example of bombast running for president! We have the ultimate salesman trying to sell the country on snake oil. That may not have been Wright’s intention when he picked the play for the season, but it has uncanny resonance right now.

The rest of the cast includes Kyle Anton Johnson as Happy, Tee Dennard as Charley, Kevin Kelly as Bernard, and Jason Sanford, Emily Jo Testa and Dedra D. Woods. They all work together beautifully, and you really should make time for this production!


For more information, go to http://www.artswest.org/theatre-plays/death-of-a-salesman/ or call 206-938-0339.