Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Salesman' Offers Powerful Truths

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Salesman' Offers Powerful Truths

Article excerpt

Classics come in many dimensions and flavors, but they should always be engaging, no matter how familiar, and also reveal something new.

Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" qualifies, joining it with "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" as pre-eminent classics of the American stage.

The "Death of a Salesman" now at the Pittsburgh Public Theater holds us intently, with its overall length (just about three hours) no barrier.

That intensity is built into the play, with its ever-changing layers of present and past, reality and memory and emotional highs and lows. The field of play is the erratic emotional life of Willy Loman, the salesman of the title, but more pointedly a husband, father and cog in an unsympathetic world.

The story is so cannily structured that it catches you by surprise even when you know it pretty well, as recurrent grievances or past pleasures suddenly well up in the moment. Refracting these, Willy's troubled mind is like the set described in the script, where house walls dissolve under the pressure of memory.

The revelation of director Mary B. Robinson's version is its frank insistence that this is the sad but resonant story of an ordinary life dwindling down into dissatisfaction and death.

Such is Miller's insight. Here, the firmness of his vision refuses to sentimentalize Willy's life, with its small triumphs and failures as inevitable as death.

"Death" turns out to be the keyword, not "Salesman." The dream of financial success is untethered to an actual product (we never really know what Willy sells - clothing? lingerie?); it's just his particular obsession. He's perhaps too obviously crushed by an unfeeling capitalist system, but he has emotional integrity. As Miller has said, Willy could have been many things other than a salesman; his failure and pathos come down, as American plays tend to do, to his family.

That's where "Salesman" has the emotional kick you expect of a great play. The moment that reduced me to tears was Willy's wondering reaction to Biff's hug. Willy may be no hero, but he is definitely us. …

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