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INSIDE HIS HEAD: Meet Willy Loman and Bruce Cromer

Sneak Peak  by Elizabeth Eichler of Death of a Salesman: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Bruce Cromer as Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman"

Bruce Cromer as Willie Loman in “Death of a Salesman”

Willy Loman is a road warrior, a traveling salesman, eking out a living, with a wife, two kids, and all that went with it in the 1940s. He spends his days, and some nights scouring New England for orders, schmoozing with clients, and buying into the American Dream.

And then he gets older. The road becomes lonelier, his clients are replaced by younger, smarmier versions, and the orders come in more slowly. Is it the miles that corrupts his Dream? Or his belief that it is not what you know, but who you know that fails him?

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman opens this week at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The play is deemed an American and international classic. The original working title was “The Inside of His Head.” In an interview in the ‘40’s, Miller said his initial vision of the play included a floor to ceiling projection of Willy Loman’s face, which opened up to see inside his head and what Loman was thinking. Miller ultimately did without that visual, as he successfully captures the hopes, the fears, and the grappling with ideals and self that Willy experiences.

Starring as Willy Loman, Bruce Cromer has been a member of the CSC resident ensemble for 11 seasons. He was most recently seen on CSC’s stage in the critically-acclaimed sold out production of Waiting for Godot. In the previous season, he appeared in the also acclaimed CSC productions of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Additional credits at CSC include Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Salieri in Amadeus, Prospero in The Tempest, and the title role in King Lear. Cromer has performed with Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Santa Fe Stages, St. Louis Rep., Milwaukee Rep., Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and more as well as at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, appearing as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” for the past 12 years. He is a resident artist at Dayton’s Human Race Theatre, and has taught Acting and Movement in the BFA Professional Actor Training Program at Wright State University for twenty-five years.

Cromer knows the road can take a toll on a commuter and salesman. “My merchandise is me,” he said in a recent interview. After a full day as a professor of theatre at Wright State University, Cromer then battles the traffic from Dayton to Cincinnati—at rush hour. “Three hour round trip. Sometimes the car misbehaves — or just makes me nervous. I go over my lines while I commute, so I’m speaking Willy’s words while experiencing his ‘on the road’ life. I’m very thankful that I don’t have heavy wares to lug around. My merchandise is just me,” he reiterates.

Willy does achieve the American dream, reflects Cromer. “He got married, has had a steady job for 34 years, raised two boys, is about to pay off his mortgage. He wants to believe that he has friends throughout his New England territory, ‘the finest people.’ But Willy may be dreaming a bit too much, and not paying enough attention to reality.”

Cromer continues, “Willy does love his boys and his wife. He’s more partial to Biff than Hap, but he had dreams of creating a family business for both of them — and certainly wants to provide more for Linda than his job allows. But he makes mistakes along the way, some that are hard to erase.”

Willy Loman has flashbacks during the action of the play, which allow the audience to see him in his heyday, contrasting where he is now, fearful of losing his job, and not being able to pay the bills. Says Cromer, “I fully understand Willy’s fear of losing his job in his elder years; at 58, as both an actor and a college professor, I often think of what would happen to my family if my mind (what little there is left of it) should start going.”

After his contemplative drive from Dayton, Cromer arrives on the set at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. He shakes off the dust of the road, and dons Willy’s vest, and becomes him. “I rarely wear suits, as a professor or an actor (off-stage, I mean). But Willy’s vest seems to capture the restrictions and the pretensions of a traveling salesman, a la 1949. I feel naked without it in rehearsals.”

The play is physically demanding. It is also emotionally demanding, of both actor and audience. Audiences have developed a vested interest in these characters. “Grown men have always wept audibly during good ‘Salesman’ productions, “ relates Cromer. “Every worker, male or female, wants to better their children’s lives, to build a future, a Home, happy memories. The fear of losing all that, of disappointing your family’s dreams is huge, in even the best of economic times. But Salesman is also about how a family works together — or splits apart.”

Get your tickets (before they sell out) to see Cromer portray Loman’s internal battle of values vs. appearances, appearances vs. reality, and reality vs. showmanship. Death of A Salesman runs October 16 through November 7, 2015 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Click here for tickets.

Additionally, 2015 marks the Arthur Miller Centennial. Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of “Death of a Salesman” opens on Oct. 16, 2015 and this is one day before Arthur Miller’s actual centennial birthday on Oct. 17, 2015!

|In April of 2015, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company was mentioned in a Chicago Tribune article where they said to “expect a proliferation of Arthur Miller productions this year because the playwright would have turned 100 on Oct. 17. His “Death of a Salesman,” for example, will be staged by…Cincinnati Shakespeare Co. (www.cincyshakes.com), Oct. 16-Nov. 7.”  There is even an International Arthur Miller Centennial Conference in Spain this Fall!  Luckily, local Cincinnatians do not have to travel that far to celebrate the life and works of this great playwright. For More information about the conferences:

Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/travel/ct-trav-0419-celebrity-celebrations-20150417-story.html
Conference: http://www.eaas.eu/conferences/other-conferences/international-arthur-miller-centennial-conference