Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" is the inaugural play at the new Ruth N. Halls theatre. Director Howard Jensen has taken this unruly, repetitive and potentially confusing masterpiece and presented it with wonderful insight and intelligence. Jensen's vision is powerfully realized by a strong cast.From the moment that Erik Anderson staggers onto the stage until his final exit is an off stage car crash, he was the worn out sixty-three year old salesman Willie Loman.
Willie is a confusing figure, a mass of contradictions. He's a believer in hard work, in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and the All American Dream. At the same time he's always looking for an angle and easy answer, the inside tip that will make his fortune.
Arthur Miller's play is a mix of realism and surrealism. Willie's dreams take form in appearances by his mythical Uncle Ben, played stylishly with dry humor by Dane Bolinger. Ben's story is that he walked into the jungle with nothing at seventeen and came out at twenty-one a rich man.
For all his faults Willie is surrounded by people who take care of him. He has the love and fierce loyalty of his wife played by Carmen Rae Meyers. Steven Decker, played his much put upon, but stalwartly supportive neighbor Charlie.
The IU production's set is by mark Frederic Smith. It reflects the threadbare gentility of Willie's home and the looming masses of apartments that shade it. Becky Hardy's lighting aptly cued the realistic and imaginary moments. The use of Alex North's original music was both effective and a nice period touch.
At its heart, "Death of a Salesman" is about Willie and his oldest son Biff, played by Jonathan Molitor. Biff, was a high school sports hero, but he flunked math and never graduated to the college scholarships he had won. In the years since then his life has been on hold. Biff has tried and tried, and failed at everything he's tried. He accuses his father of destroying him and his philandering brother Happy, played by Blake Bowen, by blowing them so full of hot air that nothing was ever satisfying for them. Still there's a deeper source for his hatred that I'll let you recall or discover for yourself. It's only in a wrenchingly emotional scene that Biff discovers that it is possible to love someone that you despise. Perhaps now his life can begin again.
The IU production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre plays each evening this week through Saturday.