American nightmare

Death of a Salesman

From left, Jerry Harrington, Ray Finnegan and Patrick Hardy.

From left, Jerry Harrington, Ray Finnegan and Patrick Hardy.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 5.0

Many say that those of us in Generation X are, on the whole, selfish. That we’re unwilling to do more than the minimum. That we’re too cynical, and that we have no real work ethic.

If that’s true, it’s probably because we watched our parents and grandparents toil for years at miserable jobs out of a sense of loyalty, only to wind up fired, demoted, “given early retirement” or replaced by some machine. No one earns that proverbial gold watch anymore. The American Dream, the one that rewards loyalty and hard work, just doesn’t exist.

At least, that’s what I kept thinking during the Proscenium Players’ production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Arthur Miller classic, Death of a Salesman.

Willy Loman, played beautifully by Patrick Hardy, is the tragic central figure—a salesman who’s gotten lost in the technological shuffle. Like the appliances in his home that Willy can’t seem to fix fast enough, he’s “in a race with the junkyard,” just trying to keep up in a world that’s changing too quickly.

His pride won’t allow him to admit—not even to his wife, Linda (Kris Wallek) or himself—that he’s failing at his job. Each morning, Willy leaves his home in Brooklyn to drum up sales that never come in a territory where he’s not “well-liked.” Meanwhile, increasing daydreams and flashbacks start interfering with his daily life.

Linda expresses concern about Willy to their sons Biff (Joshua Jessup) and Happy (Zachary Bortot), who have returned home for a visit. Biff, now 34, had such bright prospects in high school. He was the handsome star of the high school football team and was supposed to follow in Willy’s footsteps. But all Biff wants is to be a cattle rancher, which makes him a huge disappointment in Willy’s eyes. Meanwhile, Happy spends his time getting as many women as possible into bed. Both sons are worried about Willy’s erratic behavior, but it’s Biff who’s lost faith in his father, a man who, in Biff’s opinion, simply can’t see reality.

Willy’s blind faith in his employer and his refusal to change with the times prove to be his downfall. His neighbor Charlie (Jerry Harrington) loans Willy money regularly to help him save face with Linda. Charlie’s son Bernard (Andrew Mowers) is everything Biff is not, a successful attorney with a wife and a hefty salary. Charlie and Bernard are constant reminders to Willy of his own failures and those of his sons.

Meanwhile, Willy repeatedly daydreams about his brother, Ben (Ray Finnegan), a wildly successful diamond mogul. Willy feels surrounded by evidence of his own shortcomings and how little he has contributed to the world.

“After all the highways, and the trains, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive,” says Willy, in a moment that’s painful and all too true and builds to the play’s tragic end.

Hardy and Jessup are both tremendous in this production—even on a stage full of actors, they command your full attention. But Wallek, Bortot and Harrington also make for a very strong supporting cast. This heartbreaking story hits home just as hard today as it did half a century ago. So if you’ve never seen Death of a Salesman, or if it’s been a while since you last saw it, now’s the time.