In the pantheon of theatre classics, Arthur Miller's classic tragedy looms like Shakespeare's Hamlet in the career vision of the dedicated actor. Mirroring the subject matter of family in crisis, Willy Loman has to make choices as difficult as the Dane's, with results as tragic. But the contemporary setting of Willy's hegira from limitless hope to irrevocable defeat, fuses with the ordinariness of the traveler to make an audience's connection with the play a devastating emotional experience.
In Anita Khanzadian's smart staging, the pathos begins the moment the lights go up on the forlorn silhouette of Eddie Jones as Willy Loman, a shambling hulk of a man, weighed down by Weltschmerz and two shabby suitcases. The traveling salesman, a man whose philosophy is summed up by the attributes he most cherishes--a smile and a shoeshine--is finding it harder to see that smile reflected in his worn-down shoes. Time is moving too fast; the business world has changed. Missed opportunities and shattered hopes have raised the fear that his personal American Dream has foundered on the shoals of distorted values. Jones is a singular Willy, powerful in his rage against the gods, heartbreaking in his desperation, a sad lost figure of dispirited humanity, the quintessential tragic figure of literature embodied in the sagging bulk of a defeated man. Marilyn McIntyre gives a physically eloquent performance as Linda Loman, a sweetly loving helpmeet, ready to deal with Willy's foibles and shield him from the scorns he can no longer bear.
The play's structure, involving flashbacks, hallucinations, and memories of better days, makes acting and casting choices difficult, specifically in the roles of the Lomans' sons, Biff and Happy. As a 35-year-old drifter, lost to himself and filled with anger toward his parent, Don Fischer seems quite at home in Biff's skin; as the 17-year-old high school letterman, he hits some dissonant notes, appearing older than his mother and not very comfortable.
Likewise, as the easygoing Happy, Thomas Vincent Kelly makes pleasant music as a thirtysomething assistant sales manager but doesn't cut it as the hero-worshipping spare in the Loman galaxy. Steven Hack as Bernard, the boy next door, manages the transition better, going from irritating nerd to successful attorney without flinching. James Gleason handles Charley gracefully, and Bob Larkin is perkily mysterious as Uncle Ben.
Death of a Salesman is a no-fail play, never as depressing as its few detractors claim, and, especially here, totally engaging and a surefire emotional wipeout.