The unanimous praise by the press given its opening performance (Feb. 10, 1949) was followed by five awards including the Pulitzer Prize. Productions in London, Vienna and Munich soon brought Europe under the spell of its revealing picture of the American Common Man.
This spell is still in working order here in 1981, attested to by an S.R.O. audience. The secret of the spell and the lasting depth of appeal rests securely on Miller’s 30 years as a playwright fused with the greatness of his poetic vision.
“Death of a Salesman” shows Willy Loman’s search for the reason why success, as he sees it, has eluded him. The style is expressionistic in that the past occasionally intrudes into the present. Willy’s moments of memory are marked by a lighting change as leaves appear in silhouette against a sunny sky, a symbol for the timeless quality of memory.
Willy Loman loves his wife but still sees no harm in cheating on her and, in a tiny way, on his firm. He trains his sons to believe it’s not what you do but what are that counts. Be more than liked, be well-liked. He believes that this must lead to recognition and success. He spends both life and death trying to bring success to his two sons.
This is the greater tragedy, for he dies as a father, not as a salesman. The befuddled man disappears as Willy’s love come shiningly through, though still controlled by the moral fabric of his time, that of material values.
Max Segar gives an inspired performance. His expert techniques disappear as he creates an exciting and living Willy Loman. His stage presence is magnetic and he earns the acclaim he receives.
Lois Bootzin as Linda, plays Willy’s wife. She is sensitive to the loving role she plays though occasionally she is a bit heavy handed on the
Stephen Nichols plays Biff, the idealistic son with a shattering and inspired truth. He holds his audience as his character develops and his two climatic scenes are transfixing and unforgettable.
Sam Hamann plays Happy, the younger, irresponsible son who pretends to be the rich playboy, a life he wants but cannot afford. He plays an unrewarding role with vitality and conviction. He shares with Charlie, Willy’s only friend, the poetic line which summerize the play. This shorter role is played with charming touches of both humor and humanity by David Bushner.
Under the direction of Jim Nasella, assisted by Ken McFarlane, the supporting cast is also strong. Thirteen in all, special praise may be given to Bernard Baima (Uncle Ben); Ken McFarlane (Bernard); Fern La Baw (the Woman) and Guy Kock (Howard).
The large production staff all deserve praise, in particular Norman Clark for set design and Colin Irwin with Guy Kock for light scenario and its operation.
“Death of a Salesman” belongs among the great plays of our or any time.