Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller, May 27—28, 2013
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman maps the breakdown of 63-year-old Willy Loman, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family and unwillingly retired salesman.
Miller makes great use of the stage. The story is set mostly in and around Willie’s home, and Miller tells Willie’s story by using flashbacks. Subtle directions make clear the distinctions between past and present, with flashback characters being able to step through the house’s walls which restrain present-tense cast.
The voices of the past are clearly mapped. On more than one occasion, Willie will be having a conversation with a flashback and present day character simultaneously, and Miller expertly weaves the strands to make clear the distinction, while presenting Willie’s muddled mind and disorientated state through the confusion.
Willie himself is a flawed protagonist who is ultimately just a good guy with bad luck. Despite his plentiful failings, he garners sympathy from the audience. He treats most characters badly, most of all his long-suffering wife Linda. Yet he is a victim of the American Dream, never realising his potential and left incredibly unhappy. He feels cheated by life and is indeed flawed rather than bad. His imperfections and frustrations transcend generations and he is as accessible and recognisable today as he was in the 1940s.
Linda is a brilliantly likeable foil, displaying the qualities her husband lacks and remaining devoted to him without question. Their sons Biff and Happy are very distinct characters in their own right. Biff in particular goes on a journey of his own in Salesman and more than once questions his life. His relationships with Willie, Linda and Happy are individually interesting, leading to a dramatic and emotive dénouement which the character well deserves.
The plot revels in its simplicity, with more credence paid to the past and to the ways in which the various family members have been let down by the others. Moving swiftly along the final days of the salesman’s life until his titular demise (hardly a spoiler), the utter collapse of the man’s soul is heart breaking, believable and excellently paced.
Being a script, Salesman has to be performed to be appreciated in its fullness. Miller’s directions on staging, lighting and music lend more than enough help to the reader and it would without doubt be an incredibly moving portrayal of the most ordinary man’s ordinary problems.
Packed with themes, lessons and depth, it is clear to see why Salesman is on school syllabuses 70 years on. It rightfully claims the ‘classic’ tag and will not only entertain every audience member, but leave them with a challenge to haunt them long after the curtain falls.