Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Review: Death of a Salesman

ARTHUR Miller's greatest play 'Death of a Salesman' is about the way the American Dream turned into a nightmare affecting all subsequent generations of the American people. Of Polish-Jewish immigrant stock, Miller spent his first impressionable 14 years watching the dream develop only to see the Wall Street Crash turn it into a nightmare, destroying family confidence and giving him the underlying theme in his writing.

Willy Loman, played with superb judgment by Harris Yulin, is the best product of that writing. His morality is based on being 'well-liked', a corrupting objective that leads to the tragic heart of the story, his son Biff's discovery that his father is a fraud. Biff, whose agony is so well expressed by Garrett Lombard, disintegrates before our eyes, while Willy's wife Linda tries desperately to maintain her faith in him. Meanwhile, the evidence of his failure mounts like piles of street trash around her.

The playing of Linda by Deirdre Donnelly is exemplary, giving us a rock-like woman whose beliefs -- all family focused -- are destroyed, one by one.

The rawness of this production, in bringing failure so harshly to the fore, is in contrast with remembered sentiment and feeling on Willy Loman's behalf. This was the stylistic heart of earlier productions. This one is in keeping with the times, the play almost a parable for Ireland's dream being turned into a nightmare during the past 10 years.

The second theme, of moral turpitude and shallowness -- also a characteristic of what America has given to the older, European world -- is evident in every performance. The cast, representing the American people in distress, show us a world that has lost its way in circumstances where money and success constitute human belief.

I have rarely seen, in any theatrical production, so good an integration of all the players, with possibly one exception -- the wanderings in the auditorium of Uncle Ben, the only family member who survives the nightmare. Like a ghost or spirit, he would have worked better by being on stage.