Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is powerful and riveting, drawing you into the layers of duplicity of an aging salesman who must constantly reimagine his life to chase the elusive American Dream.
Willy Loman lives in hope, in the future, and in many motels, sales trip after sales trip. But these dreams continue to disappoint. Like the reference to the neighbor’s dependable General Electric refrigerator, versus the Hastings brand Willy bought, he can never catch a break. But he must go on, and hope fuels him to keep going every day, and fuels his wife and boys. Eventually fear and regret vie for control of his brain, trying to leave hope by the side of the road.
There are many good things about his production, which echo our own struggles. Andrew Hungerford’s set exposes the soul of this classic. The visible wooden studs stand singularly, further away from each other than standard studs. There is no lathing to hold them together under the decorative wallpaper. Hungerford does a great job with both scenery and lighting in this limited space, allowing a little bit of blue sky or ominous red shine through the cityscape, allowing us to feel a little cramped or boxed in.
Annie Fitzpatrick brings strength and power to Linda Loman, as the woman who runs a household while her partner is consistently gone. She mothers her sons–and husband–but also keeps on top of the details, ticking off the exact dollars and cents owed, totting numbers in her head—an ability her son and husband don’t share.
Bruce Cromer is very good with many nuances to his portrayal of Willy. However, physically, and with his too well-tailored suit, I did not see a hangdog man who spent over 30 years of rejection on the road. Only his mind shows the evidence of the stress and fatigue, not his body. His relationship with Linda is sweet and caring, contrasting the isolation written in the lines.
His boys crave his approval when young, and as adults they exhibit addictive or impulse control behaviors of kleptomania, smoking, alcoholism and sex addiction (plenty of fodder for psychotherapy). Jared Joplin as Hap and Justin McCombs as Biff represent these boys well. McCombs has powerful scenes as he tries to break from the family pattern.
Stormy McLellan’s costumes generally capture the time and place, but Willy’s striped tie doesn’t place him directly in the ‘40s. Was it intended to connect today’s audiences more easily to this Everyman (or a “Low” man)?
Director Brian Isaac Phillips skillfully ensures fluidity between scenes and the cast from CSC’s rich bench of Equity and interns who fill supporting roles, including Billy Chase as a thoughtful Bernard, to Douglas Fries as waiter Stanley, and Kelly Mengelkoch as the siren who lures salesmen to the rocks.
“Death of a Salesman” runs through November 7. Tickets can be purchased on the website: www.cincyshakes.com