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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Arthur Miller Festival:
Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge

Also see Susan's review of The History Boys

Death of a Salesman
Rick Foucheux and
Nancy Robinette

Arena Stage, at its temporary home in Arlington, Virginia, is devoting the spring to a noteworthy repertory of two classic American tragedies by Arthur Miller. The transcendent Arena production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Timothy Bond with Rick Foucheux and Nancy Robinette in the iconic roles of Willy and Linda Loman, makes a familiar play well worth seeing again, while Daniel Aukin's staging of A View from the Bridge is good but not exceptionally so.

Foucheux plays up the desperate hopefulness of Willy, the salesman determined to succeed even as his life collapses around him, breathing deeply as he attempts to avoid being swallowed up by the world. One interesting touch of casting is that the other men in the cast tower over Foucheux: older son Biff (Jeremy S. Holm), disillusioned and searching for his place in life, is broad-shouldered and takes up a lot of space; younger son Happy (Tim Getman), the low-level businessman with no concern about scruples, is sleeker and taller; even Charley (Noble Shropshire), Willy's "liked but not well-liked" neighbor, and his nerdy, brainy son Bernard (Louis Cancelmi) seem to dwarf the beaten-down Willy.

In recent years, directors and actors have been taking a fresh look at Miller's women: long considered one-dimensional, simply long-suffering mothers and good-time girls, they appear in more contemporary productions with more steel and tenacity, able to stand up for themselves in a world of men. Robinette demonstrates that side of Linda admirably, understanding Willy completely and loving him despite his scorn and self-absorption, and fighting to defend him against all threats.

Even the smaller roles make an impact in the overall picture. Naomi Jacobson makes a full-blooded character out of the sketchy role of Willy's Boston girlfriend; Stephen F. Schmidt is appropriately oblivious as Willy's young boss; and J. Fred Shiffman conveys the scary gravity, if not the physical bulk, of Willy's fearless older brother.

A View From the Bridge
David Agranov, Virginia Kull and Delaney Williams
In contrast, A View from the Bridge gets a respectful production with a talented cast, much of which it shares with the other play, but it never seems inspired. Aukin has paced it deliberately when it really should fly from scene to scene.

Delaney Williams gives an impassioned performance as Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman and another of the playwright's heroes defeated by his own character (in this case, his overprotective love of his niece), and Jacobson offers an incisive portrait of another determined woman, Eddie's neglected wife Beatrice. Virginia Kull ably conveys the growth of the teenage niece, Catherine, from childlike at the beginning to mature before her years, and David Agranov offers charm and a sweet voice as the guileless illegal immigrant she loves.

To deal with the requirements of a rotating repertory, scenic designer Loy Arcenas has kept the settings simple, largely consisting of flats and furniture, leaving spaces on the stage where the audience can use its imagination to fill in the blanks. Nancy Schertler's lighting design serves to pinpoint the areas of interest, operating on almost a cinematic level.

Arena Stage
Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge
In rotating repertory March 14th May 18th
By Arthur Miller
Performer/Death of a Salesman/A View from the Bridge
David Agranov: - /Rodolpho
Jamieson Baker: Second Waiter/ -
Louis Cancelmi: Bernard/Marco
Rick Foucheux: Willy Loman/Louis
Tim Getman: Happy/Mike
Tara Giordano: Jenny, Secretary, Letta/Second Submarine, Ensemble
Jeremy S. Holm: Biff/Tony, First Submarine
Naomi Jacobson: The Woman/Beatrice
Virginia Kull: Miss Forsythe/Catherine
Nancy Robinette: Linda/Mrs. Lipari
Stephen F. Schmidt: Howard Wagner/First Immigration Officer
J. Fred Shiffman: Uncle Ben/Mr. Lipari
Noble Shropshire: Charley/Alfieri
Cliff Williams III: Stanley/Second Immigration Officer
Delaney Williams: - /Eddie
Director: Timothy Bond/Daniel Aukin
1800 S. Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photos: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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