“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person. ” -Linda Loman, Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is chock-full of one-liners and monologues that will gut you and force you pause to think about your life and what you base your happiness and success on.
The Little Theatre of Norfolk has chosen to revive this classic American play that has just as much relevance today as it did in 1949 when it won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play.
The story follows the tragic life of a salesman named Willy Loman who is nearing retirement and feels like he has wasted his life. Willy loses touch with reality and flashes back to earlier memories, many of which involve his two sons who take after their father in the pursuit of happiness through financial success. The director of LTN’s production, Kay Lynn Perry, describes the sons Biff and Happy as using “their father’s yardstick to measure themselves” and coming up short. This play definitely focuses on the tragedy that is Willy Loman and how his life of unfulfillment led to his death, but it can also arguably be a tale on how verifiably a parent can screw up a child’s life and perspective.
The Little Theatre of Norfolk’s cast and crew had a tough task ahead of them to give justice to this strong play. Seldom productions are perfect, but in community theatre I am always awestruck at the time and effort that all of these volunteers give to put on a show. The actors in this play were strong and memorable. Steve Suskin played the lead role of Willy, and he did a good job for the most part. He certainly looked the part and carried himself well on the stage. My only critique would be that some of his great lines fell flat and weren’t spoken with the authority that this character presents. There was also a coldness and awkwardness between the characters of Willy and Biff and between Willy and The Woman.
The Woman’s entrances onto the stage came through Willy’s lapses of realty, and they seemed very awkward and timed poorly. It’s like she was always standing around while other dialog was going on, and it was a little confusing at first when you have no idea who she is. The Woman, played by Kristi Caras, was a woman with whom Willy had an affair. This affair was discovered by Biff and fractured the father/son relationship, causing Biff to spiral out of control. The revelation of the affair was surprising to a newcomer to the play and kept me entertained, but I wished for better interaction between them.
Krys “Keys” Wrenn’s character of Biff Loman was the most interesting performance. He seemed to be the only actor that chose a distinct yet strange accent in the play, but it worked (though I’d be interested to know how many times he exclaimed “Gee Pops” throughout Act 1). The last scenes with his father were some of the most memorable, and his scenes with his mother were outstanding. Judy Yerby Burke was the only female cast member to speak very many lines, but she was strong and carried the part of a dutiful wife well. This play has a strikingly different tone in comparison to the feminist play, Rapture Blister, Burn, that just finished at LTN. The women in this plot hold little significance and are treated poorly in every case, unfortunately.
The star of this performance in my humble opinion was the set, designed by Nic Thornburg. It was one of LTN’s best builds in the last couple of years (that I’ve had the privilege to see). The entire stage was the Loman house with stairs and a loft that let the audience see inside the bedrooms of the characters. There was a sheer netting beneath of the lofts that served as the basement. This was an interesting use of space that created separate rooms without any scene changes. The stage lacked color in some areas, but the lighting made the stage look truly beautiful and complex. It made your eye dance from room to room in a natural way that kept you enthralled in the story, which was thanks to work of the lighting designer Mike Hilton. There was a soft pink light that lit up the retro kitchen and bedrooms that seemed dreamy and wonderful while the jazzy 40’s music soothed the audience before the show started. It was a good opening to the show that set the era well. Katelyn Jackson’s best costuming choice was the row of black coats that the cast wore when — spoiler alert!!!! — attending the funeral of the late Willy Loman. The wreath prop and hats made a stunning and sorrowful view of the stage.
Overall this production is one worth experiencing to see a dedicated cast deal with complex and devastating themes. Director Perry does a respectful job handling this classic in her directing debut at the Little Theatre of Norfolk. It’s clear that this production required all hands-on deck from every department, so you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see this great production in Hampton Roads.
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