Speak to a generation

Death of a Salesman still hits emotional bull’s-eye

Sometimes, life brings you to your knees.

Sometimes, life brings you to your knees.

Death of a Salesman, 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday; $20. Sierra Stages at Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, 401 Broad Street; (530) 346-3210; www.sierrastages.org. Through February 12.
Rated 4.0

Arthur Miller’s American tragedy Death of a Salesman never goes out of fashion because—unlike so many plays from the late 1940s—it seems to speak directly to each new generation. A few aspects may have dated, but the absorbing, heartrending portrait of the stressed-out Loman family hits the dramatic and emotional bull’s-eye just as squarely now as it did when the play opened more than 50 years ago.

It’s all about truth and lies, of course, as Willie (an aging salesman with a huge New England territory who’s outlived his usefulness) experiences a mix of fantasy episodes and reality checks as his mind nears the end of its tether. As he plods through a grueling travel routine that he can no longer physically sustain, Willie alternately scolds and encourages his ne’er-do-well son, Biff (a high-school football hero who’s now 34). Biff, for his part, is still nursing the traumatic wounds sustained when he realized (at age 18) that his father is a fraud.

This well-crafted community production features some solid talent. Robert Rossman (as Willie) is an experienced Bay Area actor who settled in Nevada County a few years ago. He’s done musicals and comedy, but he moves into this dramatic role convincingly, illuminating Willie’s endless (and unfounded) optimism, his contrary outbursts (praising and then lambasting), his stubborn refusal (or inability?) to recognize the lies he’s living.

Sam Haley-Hall (son Biff) holds an MFA in acting, and brings more depth and gravity to his role than I’ve seen from other actors in community productions elsewhere. Susan Mason radiates sadness and authority as Willie’s long-suffering wife Linda. Josh Triplett plays the womanizing son, Hap. Director Jeffrey Mason manages the dysfunctional family dynamics well. There are also several good scenes by the supporting cast, particularly cagey old Michael Moerman as neighbor Charley.