Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The opening show of Trinity Repertory Company’s 54th season is “Death of a Salesman”, a 1949 play by Arthur Miller. It was the 1949 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February, 1949 and ran for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century. It explodes with poignancy and relevance. In 1947 Brooklyn, Willy Loman desperately craves success for himself and his two sons, but stark reality cannot live up to his dreams.The wall of delusions that he has constructed quietly crumbles around him while a devastated and demoralized man searches in vain for a hidden path to greatness. Director Brian McEleney takes this masterpiece of a show and makes it relevant to contemporary audiences so they can see each person’s struggle to achieve their ambitions and dreams is universal and not confined to the 1940’s. They can apply lessons learned from the past into their own lives during these uncertain and turbulent times. Beware of the past for if you don’t learn from it, it will come back and bite you on the butt. Brian not only blocks the show brilliantly but with his keen eye and insight into these characters brings out the best in his very talented cast, too. This show is electrifying and is the must see show of this season.
Stephen Berenson delivers a heartfelt performance as Willy Loman who crumbles under the cruel pressures of an economic system going out of vogue. His breakdown over the stress of his money woes is fabulous to behold. Stephen as Willy keeps berating himself over every lie and misdeed that he’s done in the past, leading him to do the unthinkable deed. Mr. Miller foreshadows Willy’s tragic flaw along the way about dreams never coming true and the idealistic potential of the past wasted. Bravo! Phyllis Kaye is phenomenal as the long suffering, loyal wife, Linda who steadfastly stands by her man through thick and thin. She proves every time that she sets foot on the stage that she can play comic and dramatic roles with the right amount of intensity. Phyllis wins your laughter in comic parts. Her fabulous speech about “attention must be paid”, leaves the audience in tears at her brilliant portrayal.
Matt Lytle shines as Biff, the athletic son who is still moping around after all these years because he and Happy didn’t live up to the high standards that their father wanted for them. When both sons were young, they were eager to please their father. This character fully displays the fractured father and son relationship and crumbles under the weight of watching his father’s mind cracking under the strain about the money woes. The gut wrenching hotel scene where Biff finds out about his father’s flaw that he’s not perfect and the outstanding final argument scene between Matt and Stephen leaves you in tears. They are stunning moments and terrifically played by Matt when he yells that he and his father are a dime a dozen in their final confrontation. Billy Hutto plays Happy, the fully employed son who promises to settle down but is more interested in sleeping around with as many girls as possible. As a boy, he also wanted to please his father but never kept the promise to settle down and get married. Billy provides many laughs to lighten the heavy drama of the show. Both these young actors are third year students of the Brown/Trinity Acting Program. Fred Sullivan Jr. excellently plays the generous and kind hearted neighbor, Charley who keeps offering Willy a job to help him out. The scenes between Fred and Stephen are perfectly portrayed, displaying the camaraderie between the two men. Underneath is Willy’s jealousy at how well Charley’s son has done in life while both his boys didn’t live up to his aspirations. So for a splendid rendering of a classic Arthur Miller drama, be sure to catch “Death of a Salesman” at Trinity Rep for some outstanding acting and direction of a show that still stands up almost seventy years later. Tell them Tony sent you.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (28 September to 26 November)
Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI
1(401)351-4242 or www.trinityrep.com