Friday, September 27, 2013

"Got to dream." Great acting brings Death of a Salesman to life in Denver.

I saw Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman in the Space at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts this evening, what a powerful production of what is perhaps the most powerful American play, according to John Moore.

On Broadway in 1949, the award winning play has been produced repeatedly since then but ne.ver before at the DCPA. If it turns out you miss out on tickets here, another production is just starting rehearsals in Colorado Springs, some of us will want to see them both.

Entering the Space is always a fantastic experience, finding the right section in the circular hall, it's like finding a place to sit right on the stage, it seems, the theatre in the round is a perfect setting for this intense drama, and the simple staging amps up the emotions, less is more.

It's said that Miller wrote the play very quickly, the first on the two acts in little more than a day, a gut shot. Powerful, poetic, a punch to the gut of each of us privileged to be in the audience tonight.No one went out whistling.

The salesman, now at the end of his 35 year marriage, career and refrigerator, is 62 year old Willy Loman. We learn he lost his father at a very young age, although it's never said out loud-- in the poetry of good theatre, as in life, very often the most important things don't need to be said out loud-- and as a result Willy has had no clue for the last 30 or so years what's the right way to raise his two sons, who admit they are still boys. Willie tries to help them become men, he continues to try too hard.

Biff, his oldest son hits the high point of his life his senior year in high school, which is true of many high school athletes. H. G. Bissinger the Sports Illustrated writer followed  the Permian Panthers of Odessa Texas for his book Friday Night Lights and found this to be true. James Michener in the research he did for his book Sports in America found no relationship between participating in high school sports and success in life beyond school.

Some see Death of a Salesman as a put down of the American Dream, capitalism and the profession of being a salesman. That's reading into the play something that just is not there. Ben Franklin never used the term "American Dream", but clearly he was the inventor of the concept, the common person bettering the lot of his family through hard work, thrift and giving real help to customers to earn a successful place in the world,

That's not the Willy Loman dream. His dream is about celebrity: to Willy being universally well liked is the key to success. He wants his sons to be popular, to win acclaim, and to not worry about the little things, things like studying too hard. It's no surprise that in their second decades beyond high school they are both struggling.

Mike Hartman, my favorite DCPA actor, is a perfect fit for the role of Willy. He has wide range of emotions, and they can turn on a dime, flashes of anger turning into tears of joy, and then crashing down again, over and over and over.

The rest of the cast was  outstanding as well, Lauren Klein as the wife and mother enabling her child like husband and sons, Biff, brought to life by Patrick Hayden, and Happy, who Scott Mclean creates. Charley, an outstanding performance by Michael Santo, is the Loman's long suffering neighbor who towards the end of the play shows he very well understands the important role of the salesman, that he admires Willy and men like him for reasons that don't get discussed much or even thought about,

When Willy comes to Charley after being fired to, again, borrow some money:

CHARLEY: Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? (Being well liked, well known by a lot of people.) The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that… Why must everybody like you? Who likd J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked.

I believe Charlie's eulogy for Willy is meant as praise for all salesmen-- those spark plugs for the engine of our prosperity that has served us all so well over the last 235 years, creating widespread wealth beyond the wildest dreams previous to the American Dream. Today, it's become popular to look down on the salesman. Since the start of business schools in colleges in 1910 or so, there has been an elevation of economists, managers, and market researchers, a shift of power from the hunters to the gatherers, people like Howard, who we can be sure was the beneficiary of a business school education, who we watch fire Willy, Howard the son of the owner who Willy helped to make rich. . Our current financial condition bears witness to the result of putting the gatherers in charge.

Here's Charley's eulogy. Tears come to my eyes everytime I hear it, thinking of my dad, George Tomlinson, Bill Daniels, and so many salesmen I have known who are no longer with us, salesmen who, with rare exception, were like Willie "he never made much money, never got his name in the paper," they got not nearly enough respect as they drove our economy in what truly were the good old days.

CHARLEY: Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a Shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.

Word will spread quickly about this powerful Denver Center production, the Space is a small theatre and this will be a short run. If you want to see it, and you should, I suggest you get your tickets now, don't wait.

To purchase, call Denver Center Ticket Services at 303.893.4100.  For groups of 10 or more, please call 303.446.4829.  TTY (for Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons): 303.893.9582.  Tickets also may be purchased at the Denver Center Ticket Office, located in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby.  Buy and print online at  Student rush $10 tickets are available one hour prior to curtain with a valid student ID subject to availability.  Senior and military rush tickets are available one hour prior to curtain, subject to availability. No children under four will be admitted to any theatre.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is supported in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD).  Please visit our website

This production of Death of a Salesman is generously supported by Producing PartnersDiana Mike KinseyDeath of a Salesman is part of the Denver Center Theatre Company 2013/14 season, which is generously supported by Daniel L. Ritchie,Larimer Square, The Steinberg Charitable Trust and Wells Fargo.

Here's a montage of some of the powerful scenes from this outstanding production of what the Denver Post's John Moore has called the most important of all American plays:

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