Among the handful of great American stage dramas of the 20th century, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman stands at or near the top. The extraordinary story of traveling salesman Willy Loman’s love for his family, and his dissolution in the face of the changing world of 1948, his failing powers as he ages, and the trouble his sons are having establishing themselves securely in their lives, revolves around the past, the present, and fantasies colliding inside Willy’s head.
“Death of a Salesman has become such an accepted part of the canon,” says director Henry Williamson, who recently directed his own adaptations of The Seagull and Hamlet, “that we tend to forget how revolutionary its dramatic structure was and still is today. The play moves in and out of different aspects of Willy’s life, filtering everyone and everything through his mind, blurring the lines between fact and fancy, creating a symphonic rendering of the interplay of thought and time.”
Salesmanwas suggested by actress Jane Hallstrom, who saw a Willy Loman in Magnetic Artistic Director Steven Samuels. “It wasn’t my idea,” Samuels insists. “I had never considered the part, but when Jane asked I realized all I have in common with Willy: I’m just the right age; I grew up in his Brooklyn; and when I was young, my father was a traveling salesman. Still,” he says, “to imagine one is good enough to play such a role is folly. One can only hope and trust that the material will inhabit him and raise him to its level.”
Hallstrom, who plays Willy’s devoted wife Linda, recommended Williamson to helm the production. Williamson has put together an extraordinary cast of 12, including Magnetic Theatre veterans Erik Moellering and Allen T. Law as the Loman sons Biff and Happy.
Death of a Salesman kicks off The Magnetic’s new “Masters Series.” While remaining dedicated to original works, the company believes there can be real value for audiences in seeing some of the sources behind the troupe’s world premieres; that working on classics will expand the capacity of Magnetic actors, designers, and directors; and that the company’s playwrights may find inspiration in working closely with established texts (as Samuels did in a co-production with the Montford Park Players of Molière’s Tartuffe, which led to his The Merchant of Asheville). “It’s also an opportunity,” adds Magnetic Managing and Associate Artistic Director Lucia Del Vecchio, “for us to reveal the unexpected and forgotten in seemingly familiar works.”