Wendell Pierce & Sharon D Clarke – Deadline
Death of a seller, Arthur Miller’s classic tragedy of the American Dream gone sour, is revitalized and given the opportunity to encompass the black experience in director Miranda Cromwell’s intriguing production opening tonight at the Hudson Theater in Broadway. Boasting outstanding performances – Wendell Pierce as Willie Loman and the incredible Sharon D Clarke as his wife Linda – this Death of a seller does not so much reinvent Miller’s masterpiece as it opens its doors to perspectives that enrich the material.
The script is unchanged – and surprisingly suited to the new point of view – with Cromwell and composer Femi Temowo kicking off the show with markers of mid-20th century black life – the sounds and movement of jazz, blues and gospel. , notably – infusing the production with a heritage and identity of its own.
Pierce’s heartbreaking and downcast performance (Threadoff broadway The piano lesson) and Clarke’s heartbroken but faithful Linda (the Olivier Award-winning actress brings the wounded but enduring ferocity that marked her Caroline, or change performance) make it clear that this family’s dogged pursuit of an elusive American dream can never be fully considered without some attention and respect given to their blackness.
Also noteworthy are the most fanciful flashes of non-realism – Death is largely a piece of memory, after all, and Cromwell makes it clear that memory, especially Willie Loman’s, is as unreliable as any dream. When Willie dreams – or hallucinates – of his son Biff’s golden days in high school, he sees his son still in full uniform, striking trading card poses to the beat of flashes. (That actor Khris Davis, as Biff, exaggerates the young boy God is perhaps justifiable but, on more than one occasion, squeaky).
The revival opens with the entire cast, supporting cast and all, looking ghostly to sing a bluesy gospel song as mournful as it is hopeful, perhaps foreshadowing a funeral dirge to come, the various sticks of Loman House furniture hovering above the stage ready to descend and take us back to 1949.
The plot remains as always: Willie Loman, a traveling salesman who, at 63, was already considered old (remember, the youth of Blanche DuBois had gone up in smoke at 30) is in the process of physically collapsing , emotionally, mentally and financially, unremembered (much less appreciated) by the customers he harasses in distant towns, his income a fraction of what it was, the bills piling up and the The hope he once placed in his two now adult sons was diminishing day by day.
But what weighs more than anything in Willie’s mind is the emotional chasm between him and his eldest and favorite son, Biff, on full display now that the aimless and troubled young man has returned home for a visit. . To say that Biff never lived up to his high school promises — or his father’s heavy expectations — is an understatement. Biff, who wants none of the business world his father prefers but instead dreams of outdoor farm work, hasn’t been able to hold any job since dropping out of high school, a failure entirely enveloped in his disappointment. overwhelming to himself. once-beloved father: Biff, on the eve of his high school graduation, surprised Willie with another woman.
If that one case of infidelity – at least, the only one uncovered – today seems a bit, well, unlikely to endure two decades of rancor and shattered promises, Miller’s cunning in creating a vibe that, even when Death was new, seemed steeped in nostalgia helps smooth out some of the dated values.
But this production stumbles in at least one way: as played by Davis, the adult Biff still looks 17 years old, in the development of his mannerisms and emotions. For Seller To function to its fullest, the psychic duel between father and son must be played out on an equal footing: of course, we can’t help but side with the sad, pathetic, fundamentally decent Willie, but the distance from Biff should be at least relatable, the pain, disappointment and heartache of a son who lost his hero. Here, Biff just seems petulant and immature. This is the most serious emotional failure of the production.
Even the eccentric performance of the always fascinating André De Shields, who seems to have arrived directly from Hadesville underworld, as Willy’s ghostly brother Ben manages to seem an irresistible adornment to the ferocious emotional naturalism of the main performances – Pierce, Clarke and, as neglected son Happy, the formidable McKinley Belcher III. (Also note: Charley from Delaney Williams, the neighbor who remains faithful to his friend Willie through many arguments and years of bickering; here again, race is an undercurrent: Charley is white, lending his overtures to assistance to the proud Willie. ).
There are other flaws in the production, including a tendency to stifle sentiment and overdo some rather whimsical flourishes – the abrasive laughter of that other woman from long ago that echoes through Willie’s brain (and all the theatre) is more of a sitcom punchline than a haunting, and moments like when the whole cast suddenly crashes like malfunctioning robots that come loose like the remnants of a brainstorming session that would have been better left behind, for better cut off too long operating time of three hours and 10 minutes.
Missteps aside, this Death of a seller offers a vital and fresh take on an American classic, making it all the more American for its inclusiveness and as classic as the towering performances of Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke.