Death of a Salesman

Rated 4.0

What’s the difference, in a region like ours, between a small professional show and a high-end university production? The distinction can be a matter of splitting hairs.

Witness last weekend, when Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) opened Insides Out! in the company’s 90-seat Stage Two. Written by and starring Katie Rubin (a recent Master of Fine Arts graduate of UC Davis), the play is directed by STC’s artistic director (also a UC Davis professor), Peggy Shannon. At the same time, UC Davis opened a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, featuring Tom McCauley, a middle-aged MFA candidate with Broadway and off-Broadway experience. The show is staged in a 470-seat theater—the kind of facility that STC and the B Street Theatre would like to have someday. Director Kent Nicholson earned an MFA at UC Davis and now works for Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks, a larger operation than either the B Street or STC.

Logistical comparisons aside, Death of a Salesman is a good evening out. McCauley does a convincing job as sad, tired Willy Loman struggling to make his monthly payments, talking to himself and unable to face up to the fairy tales of professional success he’s been feeding to his family (and himself) for far too long.

McCauley and director Nicholson still find flashes of charming affability in Loman, and there are good people pulling for him. His loving wife and his supportive neighbor are well-played by Lisa Klein and Matt Sullivan, both mature performers in mid-career. Also noteworthy are undergrads Matt Rapore and Michael Yost as Loman’s sons. They bring tense family relationships to a boil in the later scenes.

Martin Flynn contributes a handsome set, and Victoria Livingston-Hall captures a ’50s look with her costumes. Flynn and Livingston-Hall are also MFA candidates whose work may turn up in professional theaters in the region next year.

All in all, this is a well-crafted, absorbing presentation of a genuine American classic. It’s a campus production but definitely worthy of your attention. There are only a few days to see it; university shows have all-too-brief, two-weekend runs.