77.3 F
West Palm Beach
Thursday, April 18, 2024

Death of a Salesman Revival: In Tune with the Shortcomings of the American Dream

From the positive and negative aspects of love to the story of pursuing the American dream, "Death of a Salesman Revival" is a powerful performance. Now playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks until April 20.

No other play identifies the tragic hero better than American playwright Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”—the first American play to dramatize panic and achievement. The play debuted in 1949 when Miller was in his early 30s. Following the play’s opening on February 10, 1949, the critic for the New York Herald-Tribune wrote, “Death of a Salesman is a play to make history.” In The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson said, “By common consent, this is one of the finest dramas in the whole range of the American theatre.”

“Death of a Salesman” went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

In 1999, New Yorker drama critic John Lahr said, “With 11 million copies sold, it was probably the most successful modern play ever published.”

The show, produced somewhere in the world almost every day of the year, celebrated its 75th anniversary on Broadway this year and is still as relevant today as it was then. The play’s form—where past and present coalesce in a lyrical, dramatic arc—was one that Miller felt he’d been “searching for since the beginning of my writing life,” as Lahr reported in an exclusive interview with the playwright.

Now playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks, “Death of a Salesman” is directed by J. Barry Lewis and stars Rob Donohue in a powerful performance as the passionate and frazzled salesman Willy Loman.

Helena Ruoti and Rob Donohoe in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller – Photo by Tim Stepien

When the play opens, you see a simple stage set and wonder: What gives “Death of a Salesman” the lasting staying power that draws people to return to see it year after year? But as the scenes unfold and you see Willy’s monumental role, it is clear why this masterpiece is still running, as many large components are as important today as they were in 1949.

Most importantly, it is the focus of the family. Willy and his wife Linda [Helena Ruoti] have a complex relationship, as Willy and his sons Harold, nicknamed Happy [Ty Fanning] and Biff [Michael Shenefelt]. The family unit is very delicate, misunderstood, and misguided.

Other themes, from the positive nature of love and hate to the story of love and the idea of the American dream, are prominently in the background. And sometimes, those obvious ideas are misinterpreted in this play and real life in 2024.

As you focus on Willy’s American dream, it is curious how each member of the Loman Family understands that differently, certainly as a family and as an individual. Miller brings that across. As the director, Lewis underscores all of the ideas of living in a world of both dreams and reality, how we, as people, struggle with choices—good or bad—and how they impact our lives and the people closest to us.

Rob Donohoe in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller – Photo by Tim Stepien

As a traveling show salesman, Willy takes pride in his work and works hard to climb the ladder. He wants to be as successful as his brother Ben and be well-liked. He wants to raise his sons Happy and Biff well and teach them the value of the American dream. But life doesn’t turn like he thought it would.

Willy is in his sixties now, and his “lucky break” never came. He was fired from his job, and his mental health deteriorated, and he was completely unaware of his surroundings. His sons are in their early thirties, noticing their father’s madness and failed suicide attempts. Biff has been trying to “find himself,” while Happy is much more settled, living a comfortable lifestyle.

His sons loved and respected him long ago until they found out about his affair, a mistake that irrevocably changed his relationship with his wife and sons. An affair that Linda forgives him for, but he cannot forget. Subsequently, this leads to his tragic end.

When Miller’s American tragedy first opened on Broadway in postwar America, numerous stories were written about how many people were unsettled by Willy’s character. To them, Willy seemed almost anti-American.

In modern times, Willy’s character seems universally ordinary. As Biif says, “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you,” and we can identify with that, too.

As this production of Palm Beach Dramaworks reminds us, Arthur Miller’s 1940s drama is very much relevant today in 2024.

For younger audiences, be patient with a work that is 75 years old. Listen to the narrative and its writing style and try to understand what the playwright was doing. He is taking us on a journey inside someone’s mind, which is very advanced. This was the first time anyone had explored that capability, that sensibility for the stage.

Now, we’ve seen it a hundred bazillion different ways. But Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” made this one of the first unique experiences of that style. In this play, you’ll see what the playwright was genuinely trying to explore in that internal struggle that a person has in real life and represent that story, fresh and new.

Throughout the times, Willy Loman has captivated audiences as a dynamic and complex man filled with flaws and good qualities. Under the direction of Lewis, Donohue once again charms the Palm Beach Dramaworks audience with his unforgettable performance of Willy Loman.

For us, the audience, it’s like visiting an old friend—a character we’ve been studying since high school or college. Still, this Willy will surprise you. When you look at him up close on stage, his persona leaps from the page and becomes real, like a man looking in a mirror.

Death of a Salesman will be playing until April 20, 2024. To buy tickets, go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org or call the box office at (561) 514-4042 ext. 2. PBDW is at 201 Clematis Street.

Latest

WPB Magazine’s New Edition: Spring Issue 2024

Art, entertainment, culture, travel reviews, dining, and interesting feature stories to explore and discover the best of West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach International Boat Show 2024 Set Sail for Success

The Palm Beach International Boat Show 2024 in West Palm Beach set sail for success, delivering an unforgettable experience for every guest.

Celebrated ceramicists in “Rose B. Simpson: Journeys of Clay” exhibition at Norton

Acclaimed ceramicist Rose B. Simpson has a survey of her work along with three generations of her matrilineal family at the Norton through September 1, 2024.

Horses, abstracts, and landscapes in Maureen Fulgenzi’s new studio showroom

The colorful, varied work of artist Maureen Fulgenzi hangs in her stunning showroom/studio in Riviera Beach.

Newsletter

Subscribe to "The Weekly" and stay informed on the best of West Palm Beach with occasional story alerts delivered to your inbox, plus occasional alerts when we publish our latest stories.

WPB Magazine’s New Edition: Spring Issue 2024

Art, entertainment, culture, travel reviews, dining, and interesting feature stories to explore and discover the best of West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach International Boat Show 2024 Set Sail for Success

The Palm Beach International Boat Show 2024 in West Palm Beach set sail for success, delivering an unforgettable experience for every guest.

Celebrated ceramicists in “Rose B. Simpson: Journeys of Clay” exhibition at Norton

Acclaimed ceramicist Rose B. Simpson has a survey of her work along with three generations of her matrilineal family at the Norton through September 1, 2024.