Death of a Salesman
Charles S. Dutton's overemphatic portrayal of WIlly Loman compromises this otherwise worthy revival of Arthur Miller's magnificent drama.
All is hardly lost in this revisit, however, thanks in large part to Miller's forceful writing, which laces oblique references to Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides but also declares implicitly that the 20th century mitigated against heroes of Greek-tragedy scale and in their place thrust forward a psychologically embattled Everyman attempting to retain dignity despite the diminishing value of the goods he's selling.
The story concerns the defeated Willy's last days and his need to convince himself by way of blowhard exaggeration that he is a success and "well-liked" throughout his New England territory. Moreover, he must convince himself that his older son, the drifting ex-football whiz Biff (a properly conflicted Ato Essandoh), is also destined for the big time. However, Willy's pie-in-the-sky hopes are at odds with a reality of which Linda (Kimberly Scott) is too aware -- a depressing situation where Willy's salary-earning days have come down to a struggle with mortgage payments, and where Willy's other son, Happy (a calculatedly jolly Billy Eugene Jones), is too much the womanizing wastrel.
Indeed, the most eye-poppingly effective scene in the first half of the piece occurs when Linda dresses the boys down for negligent treatment of their father. In fact, Scott's work hints the play could be renamed Survival of a Salesman's Wife. Keeping her voice at modulated decibel levels, Scott gets all the despair of the dream-dashed age Miller assiduously chronicles -- and that designer Scott Dougan evokes with a set appearing to be modeled on George Segal's bleached sculptures. (The effective lighting is by Stephen Strawbridge.)
The rest of the ensemble -- including Stephen McKinley Henderson as abiding neighbor Charley, Austin Durant as Charley's accomplished son, Bernard, Thomas Jefferson Byrd as ghostly brother Ben, and Howard W. Overshown as hard-nosed boss Howard -- hit the proper discordant chords right up to the finishing line. Then, Dutton himself harmonizes with the heartbreakingly resonant salesman's death. Finally, the actor -- and Miller's great play -- emerge triumphant.