Famed playwright Arthur Miller never lacked audiences and awards during his prestigious career. DEATH OF A SALESMAN is no exception, winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play after its Broadway debut in 1949. A 1951 film starring Fredric March was nominated for several Oscars, and DEATH OF A SALESMAN has been adapted to television repeatedly over the years as well as adapted for international audiences. When asked about his masterpiece, Miller described the play as “…the tragedy of the common man.”
A traveling salesman entering his 60’s as the play begins, Willy Loman (Rob Morrow) is a sad sack of a guy who now spends most of his time reminiscing about the past and questioning where he made the wrong turn on the journey to reach his dreams. From an enthusiastic, hard-working, young man with energy, vitality, and hope, Willy somehow finds himself on the downside of his trip through life, a self-proclaimed failure who lives in a fantasy world of his own making.
His loyal wife Linda (Lee Garlington) tries her best to shield him from reality, while his two grown sons Biff (Robert Adamson) and Happy (Dylan Rourke) have never been able to communicate honestly with their father about their own goals. When Willy looks around him, he cannot avoid seeing Bernard (Lucas Alifano), the attorney son of his best friend Charley (Jack Merrill), who has become a success – just like his Uncle Ben (Donovan Patton), an intrepid explorer who discovered a diamond mine in Africa. Meanwhile he and his two sons have not achieved money, fame, or any kind of greatness, Willy’s criteria for a life well lived. Clearly a recipe for tragedy, DEATH OF A SALESMAN follows its inexorable path to the final curtain.
Helmed by director Mike Reilly, DEATH OF A SALESMAN has a strong acting team who drive home the poignant reality of a man who never met his expectations, either by his own actions or by the actions of the sons upon whom he pinned his hopes for a better future. The play is a poignant and even painful portrayal of a man who never made it in this world – a story which will resonate with many in the audience who never achieved some of their own goals. Kudos to Rob Morrow, who breathes life into Willy, a dejected loser whose only respite from misery is self-delusion. As his long-suffering but faithful wife, Lee Garlington does a great job of conveying the perfect spouse who is there for Willy to the very end – passive yet strong in her understated character study.
Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design is simple but gets the job done, with Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes and Ed Salas’ sight and sound design maintaining the story of glow and gloom engendered by Miller’s tale of shattered hopes and dreams. Although uneven at times, every lover of classic plays should make a beeline to see the Ruskin group’s revival of DEATH OF A SALESMAN.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN runs through August 4, 2019 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (no performances July 12-14). Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets range from $25 to $35 ($5 discount for students, seniors, and guild members). For information and reservations, call 310-397-3214 or go online.