Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Death of a Salesman
As familiar as Arthur Miller's play, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award, has become since its 1949 premiere, it retains a primal force in its examination of fathers and sons and the flaws of the American dream. The fact that Wallace is African American, while his sons are played by white actors, is beside the point in this production; on the other hand, Schraf, who plays Willy's wife Linda, and Wallace are also partners in life and the warmth and connection of that bond comes through in the portrait of a man coming to the end of his patience and a woman trying her best to help save him.
The play covers the last day in the life of Willy Loman, a salesman who has devoted himself to the pursuit of success for himself and his family. He dreamed of wealth and respect for his sons Biff (Keegan) and Happy (Gavigan), but Biff doesn't know what to do with his life and Happy cuts corners wherever he can. Linda knows Willy's weaknesses (some of them at least) and loves him anyway.
With his powerful presence and voice, Wallace clearly shows how Willy has spent his life fooling himself and those around him. Listen to the ways he contradicts himself, or how he tells rosy stories of his successes in business but then has to reckon with the reality of the situation and make excuses for his shortcomings. Keegan, whose frustration builds to a boil, and slick, hotheaded Gavigan strike sparks with each other and with Wallace, and Schraf shines in both joy and sorrow. The other standout is Frederick Strother as Willy's brother Ben, a fearless and ruthless man who embodies Willy's conception of success.
The most striking element of Tim Mackabee's scenic design is the inclusion of numerous windows looming over the Loman house, hemming it in and smothering the life out of the family. Wade Laboissonniere's costume design ranges from natty suits and elaborately detailed day dresses to Ben's intimidating white suit and Linda's house dresses.