Arthur Miller's classic tragedy DEATH OF A SALSEMAN is being given a strong production at Syracuse Stage. Everyone knows of or has read this play, but this is an opportunity to actually see it. The play follows 63-year-old salesman Willy Loman as his life, family and career disintegrate. Miller shows us not only scenes from the present, but also from Willy's memory and imagination. As his wife Linda says to Willy's sons in one of the best-known passages in American theatre, "I don't say he's a great man. . . . But he's a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid."
According to playwright Miller in an essay written in 1949 when the play was first produced, "Tragedy . . . is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly. . . . [What shakes us is] the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world." Willy, in his pursuit of the distorted American dream of business success, is unable to realize or even listen to the truth about himself or his sons.
The interesting set designed by Erhard Rom is centered by Willy's house, realistic but tilted and fractured, surrounded by towering apartment house walls. The office scenes are cleverly set apart by various arrangements of lowered venetian blinds. I felt that the horizontally suspended tree would have worked better as a branch, as I kept waiting for the roots to be lowered.
As for B. Modern's costumes, they're generally very good, especially Linda's shoes and wigs. There are a couple of exceptions though, such as the dreadful fit of Miss Forsythe's dress and Willy's much too contemporary watch.
Lap-Chi Chu's lighting is simple and effective, while Greg Coffin's music is nicely subtle and evocative.
The cast is strong and balanced. Erik Fredricksen is good as Ben, Willy's brother, as is Ted Deasy as Howard, Willy's employer. However Mr. Deasy really shines as the waiter Stanley, giving us a memorable three-dimensional character in what could have been a throw-away role.
Sam Misner is believable and appealing as both the younger and older Bernard, while Mark Goetzinger is excellent as his father Charley. His Act I card game with Willy is exceptionally good. As The Woman, Catherine Lynn Davis has been encouraged by Director Tim Ocel to overdo the character's laughing and it becomes not only annoying but unreal.
As for the two sons, Andrew Ahrens makes a good Happy, who gets sucked into his father's delusional philosophy. Ryan Artzberger doesn't seem comfortable as the younger Biff, but is quite powerful in the older version. Their scenes together are especially good.
As Willy, Kenneth Albers seems to concentrate on the character's bluster, and we rarely see a hint of vulnerability. Bluster is more effective when we see the self-doubt that produces it. Priscilla Lindsay gives a believable and multi-level performance as Linda, and is particularly moving in the final scene.
Tim Ocel has staged the play very well and has maintained both flow and clarity in and out of the many scenes of the present and of memory. The relationships between the characters are clear and strong. We end up agreeing with the playwright and Linda when she says of Willy, "A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man."
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage/Indiana Repertory co-production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN gets four and one-third oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.