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Death of a Salesman Review

Genevieve McCabe | Friday, March 27, 2009

Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman” has been a staple of American theatre since its opening in 1949. This weekend it is being presented by the Notre Dame Student Players Club at Washington Hall. It centers on the Loman family, a simple family struggling to achieve the American dream. The play is well done and enjoyable to watch if not entirely relevant to a college age audience.

As head of the family, Willy Loman, played by J. J. Rees, works as a traveling salesman. From week to week he struggles to make ends meet. Because of this difficulty, he chooses to live in a world of memory and imagination rather than a world of reality. Through a series of flashbacks and daydreams, the story of Willy’s life emerges. The audience can see that Willy’s life is defined by his constant struggle to justify his version of the American dream with the disappointment of reality. He has elaborate ideas of success and happiness, but he struggles to find them in his frustrating and unsuccessful career.

Willy’s two son’s Biff and Happy provide further illumination into the fragile dynamics of the Loman family. Biff, the oldest son, has failed to live up to his potential in everyone’s eyes, including his own. He wanders from one job to the next, never quite finding happiness or contentment. In Biff’s own words, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to want”. The younger of the two sons, Happy, has seized upon his father’s dream for success in business. He does relatively well and enjoys many of the trappings of success and happiness. Yet for all of his success, Happy hardly lives up to his name. Rather, he is just as lost as his brother Biff, who can at least acknowledge his frustrations. The disappointment of his own life and the lives of his sons come together, crippling Willy under the pressure of keeping it all together.

Rees delivers a convincing performance as Willy, although it is at times difficult to remember that he is playing a 60 year old man. Derek Defensor and Chris Stare do well as Biff and Happy, but the standout performance is delivered by Kelly Hunt as Linda Loman. Hunt delivers an earnest performance as a wife trying to hold her crumbling family together. More than any of the other performers, Hunt seems to have reached the heart of her role. It is her performance that succeeds in engaging the audience at an emotional level. You cannot help but feel for Linda and sympathize despite her role in encouraging Willy’s delusions.

Overall, the play is well done. It does seem to drag on toward the end, though that is due more to the script than the actors themselves. Unfortunately, despite the best effort of the cast, the message of “Salesman” is difficult to relate to and audiences may find the story unrewarding. Willy’s struggles are often hard to sympathize with from the perspective of a college age audience. Though Biff and Happy provide an example of where we all hope not to be in fifteen years time, the overall spirit of the performance falls flat. At certain points, it is almost annoying that not a single character succeeds in overcoming his self-pity. This is not to say that those who are interested in the greater tradition of American theatre will not find the performance enjoyable. Rather, the average student may feel uninspired.