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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 19
ArtsWest's Death of a Salesman is a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
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ArtsWest's Death of a Salesman is a stunning production

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

DEATH OF A SALESMAN
ARTSWEST
Through May 29


Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is the gold standard of masterful American works and with it ArtsWest presents the best production of their 2015-2016 season, which has been reflecting the theme of 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness/Success.' Willy Loman, the iconic title character, is the American Idiot, he is the dreamer seeking a new mañana like the kitchen workers in My Mañana Comes, and he is like the scarred and disillusioned Violet yearning for acceptance with a wonderful new life.

Death of a Salesman portrays the final days of downtrodden salesman Willy Loman and his broken family in Brooklyn in 1949. He squabbles with his well-built, handsome sons (Biff and Happy) about their missed opportunities of success with the American dream. He reprimands them that all they need to be is 'well-liked' and charming to make it in the business world and, therefore, life. Linda, his weary yet virtuous wife, puts up with his behavior and somewhat enables him. Willy's biggest beef is with Biff who was once a promising high school football player. However, something in their past continues to gnaw on the fibers that hold the already frayed Loman's together. This dramatic tension guides Miller's famous story.

David Pichette commands Willy's flawed character and takes the audience on an emotional ride that is unequivocally perfect in its manic expressions: exhilaration, hope, humiliation, terror, and heartbreak. He tramps over every corner of this stage with physical strut and swagger (faux) confidence, to shoulder slump defeat, and to broke and shaking fetal position. The soul-wrenching scene of Willy attempting to plant seeds in his barren yard at night is brilliant as fleshed out by Pichette. David Pichette's performance is the finest of the season.

As Biff, Drew Highlands inhabits the beleaguered son with a well-guided character build-up that pays off with a satisfying artistic punch in the gut as the play culminates in its inevitable tragic climax. It is one of the most fitting depictions of this character that I've ever seen. Highlands is a treasure to watch.

Eleanor Moseley (as Linda) and Kyle Anton Johnson (the wayward and morally challenged Happy) deliver top-notch performances. While their respective characters don't offer any absolution for the story, their finely-tuned performances are just as outstanding as anything else in this production.

Artistic Director Mathew Wright directs this final production of this season. I admire the decision to have the cast be a part of the set, sitting on the edges of the stage chiming in with their lines as the story progresses. It's as if they are observers, like ghosts of Christmas present, viewing Willy's life and his American nightmare ripping his family to shreds.

Wright's direction allows the themes of the story, such as arrested development and paralyzing nostalgia among others, from 1949 America to resonate with a 2016 audience. Even as the story hops between time periods of the young and hopeful family to the older and regretful family, Wright manages to keep its relevance in check.

Death of a Salesman is set in a time which people often consider the golden age of America. It's post-war times with a thriving economy and strong family values. Yet, if you peek into the bricks and windows of the homes sitting on sun-deprived lawns, you see a family afraid of an unseen looming monster. What is it? Uncertainty? Or is it the realization that although we have this wonderful right to pursue happiness or success, that doesn't mean that they're necessarily guaranteed to us no matter how bold, bright-smiled, and well-liked we are.

Death of a Salesman goes beyond the father-son conflict and broken American dream tropes to reveal something that is both fascinating and frightening. This is the beauty of Arthur Miller's play and this production.



ArtsWest's production of Death of a Salesman runs Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. through May 29. Tickets are $17-$37.50. ArtsWest is located at 4711 California Ave. SW. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.artswest.org/theatre-plays/death-of-a-salesman/ or call 206-938-0339.

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