Sunday, April 30, 2017

Day 211- Pittsburgh Public Theater, Death of Salesman –Which American Dream?

Bendard (Shaun Hall) and Willy (Zach Grenier)*

Death of a Salesman, written in 1946 by playwright Arthur Miller, is one of those classic tragedies that we all have to read at some point in our educational history. This play is well known for  an analysis of the “American Dream”. Willy (Zach Grenier), a 63 year old washed up salesman  anguishes over his lack of  self-success and the lack of career accomplishments of his two sons, Happy and Biff (Maxwell  Eddy and Alex Mickiewicz).  He  fades in and out of reality as he relives his  past but in the present, he has a delusional  view of his imagined success. When forced to face his failed “American dream,”  he ends his life.

To be honest, in my youth without much life experience, I just did not get it. In my empty nest period, this play was much more relevant-I think Willy missed the American dream that was right in front of him because of an  unbalanced  focus on being liked by others and  equating success with monetary gain.

 I was captivated by the characters’ emotional dialogue. The last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life is packed with action, moving  between Willy’s flashbacks and his current struggles. There is just so much going on in this play.  My eyes teared up 3 times during the show.  I see now why this play is considered one of the greatest plays of all time.  Even though it was written in 1940's it remains relevant  today with rich characters whose actions have many layers of meaning. It all came  alive in this Pittsburgh Public Theater production.

Willy (Zack Grenier) and his wife Linda (Kathleen McNenny)*

As the play opens,  you can feel the emotional weight that Willy caries as he comes  home to his wife struggling with two heavy suitcases following a  long cancelled  sales trip. His wife, Linda (Kathleen McNenny), is always so loving and supportive. She even endorses  Willy’s  unrealistic delusions of grandeur throughout the play.  We also get a glimpse of  his sons’ love and admiration for their father during one of Willy’s daydreams of his past where he throws  ball with his son Biff, the  high school  football star and with Happy, the younger brother who fades into the background of Biff’s glory.  
Willy with Biff (Alex Mickiewicz) Happy(Maxwell, Eddy)*  

Zack Grenier, as Willy, brilliantly produces  abundant audience empathy  for his character. You could see  the  erosion of  self confidence in Willy’s face when  after 35 years working for a company, he was forced to live on commission  and to  ask his successful  and only friend,Charlie (Randy Koviz), for money.  He looked  so tired from traveling at age 63. You could feel  his desperation as he asked his younger boss, Howard Wagner (Joseph Domencic) to  work in town requesting 65 dollars a week salary, then going to 50 dollars, and finally as low at 40 dollars but to no avail.  I heard the audience sigh and some even gasp  during this scene. I of course was brought to tears.    

 At times during this  play I just wanted to hug Willy. Other times, I wanted to  shake him and say to him, “ Look at what you have in your relationship with your wife, a women who  loves you, and look at those  two sons  that just want your acceptance.  You have the ‘American Dream’ and stop equating  your success with popularity  and money!”  I  pitied him  because as I see it, he missed the boat by not seeing  all the good that he had in his life.

 Pittsburgh Public Theater's  production of Death of A Salesman  makes you feel.  This is  just what  a  classic tragedy  is meant to do. This production turned a play that I  just did not get and for that matter, did not much like, into one that  I loved!  I say experience a classic again as an empty-nester and  start with Pittsburgh Public Theater's Death of a Salesman.

(Death of a Salesman  runs  April 20, 2017 to May 21, 2017 at the O'Reilly Theater.)

Spiritual Source 
For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Other sources
* Photos by Michael Henniger