Review Roundup: DEATH OF A SALESMAN Starring Hoffman, Garfield & More - All the Reviews!!
The new Broadway production of Arthur Miller's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece DEATH OF A SALESMAN directed by eight-time Tony Award® winner Mike Nichols and starring Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, Obie Award winner Linda Emond as Linda Loman and Andrew Garfield, making his Broadway debut as Biff Loman opened tonight Thursday, March 15, 2012 at the Barrymore Theatre, where it will play a strictly limited 16-week engagement.
The production features a recreation of the original ground-breaking and Tony Award-winning scenic design by Jo Mielziner, with costume design by Academy Award winner and five-time Tony Award nominee Ann Roth, lighting by five-time Tony Award-winner Brian MacDevitt and sound design by Tony Award-winner Scott Lehrer.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Robert Feldberg, The Record: "Under the direction of Mike Nichols, the production overall has an uneven, uninflected quality, without the dramatic solidity or shadings of personality that make a work spring to vivid life. Expectations are sky high when a superb actor like Hoffman takes on a storied role like Willy Loman, the traveling salesman whose delusional pursuit of the American Dream has become a symbol of middle-class tragedy. So, even though Hoffman is never less than capable, and has several impressive scenes – just watch him crumble as Willy bounces into his boss's office seeking a favor, only to discover he's being fired – the portrayal is ultimately disappointing."
Michael Sommers, New Jersey Newsroom: "You cannot back travel in time to witness a celebrated stage production of yesteryear, but director Mike Nichols offers the next best thing to it in his wonderfully reverential revival of 'Death of a Salesman.' ... Rather than devising his own concept, Nichols gracefully employs designer Jo Mielziner's famous original setting and composer Alex North's original score to re-create the same visuals and musical moods that Broadway audiences experienced in 1949. In choosing 44-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman to portray Willy Loman, Nichols directs an actor who easily incarnates the man's age in the drama's present day, when Willy is in his sputtering 60s, and also in the flashbacks to his prime 20 years earlier."
Roma Torre, NY1: "It's the fifth Broadway production of the landmark play. But this time Mike Nichols went back to the drawing board with some of the original 1949 designs -- a brilliant move that somehow breathes new life into the 63-year-old drama. And while I've seen all of the Broadway revivals, with this inspired production it's as if seeing the play for the first time."
Scott Brown, Vulture: "In Mike Nichols's thunderous new production of Arthur Miller's Salesman (really a meticulous reproduction of the 1949 original) - a suite of perfectly staged funeral games, down to the smallest role - the main attraction is this titanic grapple between American gods, embodied by two actors who know a parable when they see one and know how big a performance it calls for (i.e., oversize). ... The play belongs to Garfield and Hoffman, as it must. Both know how to weaponize language. (Garfield, especially, has used his Brit's ear for High Brooklynese to great declamatory advantage: He treats Miller like Shakespeare, finding the rhythms, then secreting them inside a natural reading.) And both are performers of demon strength who are always on the razor's edge of succumbing to their own "technique," but, miraculously, don't. Hoffman's habits as an actor are, of course, better known, and may register occasionally as habits; sometimes too good a fit can be as distracting as a bad one. This is, of course, the great challenge of Willy: to play a small man larger than life. Hoffman meets that challenge fiercely, dressed to perfect disadvantage."
Sarah Hughes, The Independent: "Making his Broadway debut, Garfield adeptly captures Biff's vulnerability, showing us a broken man-child still caught between adolescent and adulthood, forever relieving the moment when his belief in his father died. His desperate final plea ('I'm a dime a dozen and so are you') is so nakedly emotional it is barely possible to watch. Meanwhile, Finn Wittrock lends solid support as the callous, carefree Happy and Linda Emond is quietly affecting as the worn-down Linda reminding us 'attention must be paid.'"
John Lahr, The New Yorker: "Nichols's satisfying production [gives] his staging of the play a particularly shocking subliminal punch. And Hoffman, an eloquent package of virulence and vulnerability, finds all the crazy music in Willy's disappointment. Gravity seems to hang on his lumpy body like a rumpled suit, tethering him to the shaky ground he stands on."
David Cote, Time Out NY: "Hoffman makes Willy his own: stamping the iconic figure with hangdog gravitas, slow-burning humiliation, fast-flaring passion and a genius for making each moment acute and dangerously raw. In short, Hoffman is stupendous; I can't wait to see him do it again when he's retirement age. ... Down the line you won't find a single weak performance or slack beat in this remarkably tight and muscular staging. The scenes crackle, Miller's poetry sings and the machinery of domestic tragedy clicks horribly into place."
Ben Brantley, New York Times: "Emotional distance sprang, for me at least, from a feeling of disconnection between the leading actors (all, I would argue, miscast) and their characters. ... Mr. Hoffman, Ms. Emond and Mr. Garfield all bring exacting intelligence and intensity to their performances. They make thought visible, but it's the thought of actors making choices rather than of characters living in the moment. Their reading of certain lines makes you hear classic dialogue anew but with intellectual annotations. It's as if they were docents showing us through Loman House, now listed on the Literary Register of Historic Places. ... Two performances stand out, luminous and palpable, for their authenticity. As Happy, the younger son forever in pursuit of Dad's affection, Finn Wittrock provides a funny, poignant and ripely detailed study in virile vanity as a defense system. Bill Camp, as Charley, Willy's wisecracking next-door neighbor, wears on his face an entire lifetime of philosophical compromises, small victories and protective cynicism. And he speaks so deeply from character that he makes even a line like 'Nobody dast blame this man' sound as natural as 'hello.'"
Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer: "What makes this production so powerful is the way Nichols draws clear characters from everyone - even the waiters in a late scene seem to have back-stories hidden somewhere in their portrayals. ... From its opening, when Willy returns abruptly from a business trip, to its requiem in the final moments, Nichols squeezes these juicy characters. Miller gives Death of a Salesman a muscular narrative arc, and this revival provides the intensity to flex it and strike."
Michael Musto, The Village Voice: "Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't look the part of the 63-year-old salesman at the end of his rope, but he's not afraid to play the character's unsympathetic traits and he's poignant when Willy uncharacteristically realizes he's furthering his own destruction before diving right back into it. ... Yes, there have been better Salesmen, but this production is a solid reminder of the play's sturdy brilliance in dissecting the dark side of the American dream."
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg:"It's uncommonly rare to watch a revival and suddenly attune yourself to the sound of weeping around you, the shaking of your hand as you take notes and, most important, to recognize that what you're feeling must be very much like what audiences must have felt at the opening of a great new drama. But that's what I felt at the critics' preview of Mike Nichols's magnificent revival of Arthur Miller's 1949 epilogue for the American Dream, 'Death of a Salesman.'"
At the end of this "Salesman" I felt that I understood Willy and Linda and Biff, and was grateful for the insights that the actors playing them had offered. But I felt I knew Happy and Charley, that I might run into them on the street after the show. I also felt for them. The gap between those two sets of reactions explains why "Salesman," now and forever a great play, never quite achieves greatness on the stage this time around.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: "Philip Seymour Hoffman, the star of Mike Nichols's revival of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman,' is following in the well-remembered footsteps of Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman and Brian Dennehy, and it's a tribute to his talent that you won't feel inclined to compare him to any of his predecessors. ... The genius of Mr. Nichols's unostentatiously right staging of 'Death of a Salesman' is that each part of it is in harmony with Mr. Hoffman's plain, blunt acting. Like his star-and the rest of his perfectly chosen cast-Mr. Nichols has disappeared into the play itself. The result is a production that will be remembered by all who see it as the capstone of a career."
Thom Geler, Entertainment Weekly: "Compliments must be paid. Director Mike Nichols' stirring Death of a Salesman, running on Broadway through June 2, harbors no radical agenda, no modern glosses or reinterpretations of Arthur Miller's text. Instead, Nichols & Co. play it straight. And rarely has a classic work seemed straighter, or truer."
Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY: "Garfield vividly traces Biff's evolution from a confident, charismatic teenager to a man crippled by his father's expectations and mistakes. The U.K.-bred actor's body language, spry and vigorous in youthful scenes, slackens; even his canny New York accent sharpens, as a local's might, in excitement or under duress. ... All the performances are at once authentic and timeless, much like Jo Mielziner's abstract set design and Alex North's haunting incidental music, both restored from 1949's original staging."
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "It's a bit of a mystery why Nichols chose to cast the lithe and slender Garfield in a role that seems to call for more brute strength than athletic grace. The thesp is far better suited to his upcoming movie role as the new Peter Parker in "The Amazing Spider-Man," and the physical incongruity is disconcerting enough to put him at a disadvantage initially. But by the end of the first act, the actor is holding his own, and when Biff finally spurns his father's false values and asserts his own ideals, Garfield claims the moment and scores big-time."
Matt Windman, am NY: "At age 44, Philip Seymour Hoffman is still too young to be playing the 60-year-old Willy Loman. In a kind of dazed stupor, his Loman effortlessly switches between his out-of-control egotism and his private fears and insecurities. Still, Hoffman lacks the commanding ferocity that Brian Dennehy brought to the role in the 1999 Broadway revival. Rising film star Andrew Garfield, also too young for his role as Biff, holds his ground against Hoffman as they roar back and forth, and he emphasizes Biff's shame and discomfort. ... Linda Emond gives a radiant performance as Linda, stressing the character's unconditional love for Willy and her sober-minded ability to understand the realities of his situation. When she pronounces the now well-known line that 'attention must be paid,' a chill pervades the theater."
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "Impeccably cast down to the smallest roles, with an ensemble led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield, this emotionally wrenching production evokes the unmistakable atmosphere and attitudes of mid-century America while also putting down trenchant roots in today's world. ... I had never before experienced the overwhelming impact of the drama to this degree, nor appreciated the extent to which Miller's observations are culturally specific while at the same time universal and prophetic."
The Economist: "The play's greatness is innate; it lies in the way its action and dialogue swoop from one moment to the next, between past and present, elation and fury, reality and imagination. The audience is seated in the rollercoaster of Willy's mind. But for all of his manifest madness, it is crucial that Willy retain his pathos and never become absurd. It takes strength and skill to maintain this balance, on the knife-edge between insanity and a merely fearful sanity, for over two hours. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers this bare-knuckle ride without losing his balance for a moment. Though only 44, he inhabits this Willy with an unsettling intensity. Such a powerful force at the centre of such a powerful play will inevitably make those around him seem small. Despite strong performances, many of the other cast members are occasionally flat or awkward by contrast with Mr Hoffman."
Linda Winer, Newsday: "Let's get this out of the way at the top. Philip Seymour Hoffman is too young and soft to be the standard-issue iconic Willy Loman chiseled on the Mount Rushmore of American drama. Andrew Garfield seems too delicate and sensitive to be the Biff we know as the curdled former high-school quarterback and big Willy's golden-boy son. And none of that matters a bit in Mike Nichols' revival of "Death of a Salesman," a wrenching, powerfully inhabited production that honors Arthur Miller's 1949 masterwork -- complete with original sets and music -- while finding new shades of humanity all its own."
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "The still-vibrant, still-powerful story of Arthur Miller's Willy Loman returns to a nation now emerging from a Great Recession, awash with consumerism, disgusted by greed and where audience members are striving pointlessly to be "well liked" on Facebook. Crisply directed by Mike Nichols and starring a heartbreaking Philip Seymour Hoffman, this "Death of a Salesman," which opened Thursday at the Barrymore Theatre, is now a gloomy 63-year-old mirror – the same age as Loman is in the play – held up to the world to prove that little has changed. ... Hoffman will deservedly get attention for playing one of the most iconic American stage roles with vigor, but this production gets its heart and soul from Loman's wife, played with ferocious love by Linda Emond. She is holding this family together with her nails, watching her husband fall apart, taking his abuse, soaring with his hopes, playing interference between him and her sons, and generally walking on eggshells."
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "Garfield shows us a young man who is troubled, angered and deeply affected by the hypocritical rhetoric of his father. But he does not show us a young man who has gone out and failed. His visage is infused with articulate, attractive innocence; yet when you've been in jail, you have scars, scars that Biff needs, because it finally drives him to action."
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: "Garfield plunges to the sea-floor bottom of this fractured father-son relationship and reveals unspeakable heartbreak throughout his perilous descent. Attention must be paid to such a performance, which not only supplies the production's turbo-charged catharsis but also reminds audiences of the incredible power of great plays when they are inhabited by an actor willing to expose those primal wounds that in real life are just too painful to reopen. ... Garfield, in one of the most emotionally naked performances I've ever witnessed in the theater, lets us see the crippling weight of Willy's overblown expectations. This young man becomes the play's protagonist in a kind of Oedipal stage reversal that is thrilling to behold. ... Nichols' painfully timely "Death of a Salesman" may have too many flaws to be one for the ages, but Garfield has made it one that I'll remember for as long as I live."
Peter Marks, Washington Post: One must pay attention to a man even as inattentive as the loutishly bewildered Willy Loman, whom Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays so effectively in director Mike Nichols's steel-girded Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman," which officially opened Thursday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. In concert with Andrew Garfield's embittered Biff, the drifting elder son of the defeat-racked Loman household, Hoffman finds a revealing new way into the psyche of a character Arthur Miller introduced 63 years ago as the damaged end-product of a system that leaves workers to sweep up after the ashes of their dashed hopes."
Robert Trussell, Kansas City Star: "This play, like most of Miller's early work, exerts its will on an audience in an extraordinary way. It's like a freight train that slowly picks up speed, and before you know it, it is hurtling down the tracks, in danger of derailing at any moment. Put this material in the hands of a smart director and gifted actors, and the results can be breathtaking. And that's certainly the case with this show."
Roger Friedman, Forbes: "PHS and Garfield are stunning. Emonds and Witttock are exceptional. All the supporting players are top notch. Nichols has given "Death" a new life, illuminating its intricacies and sophisticated architecture. There isn't a false note played. Rudin will now have the top grossing musical ("Book of Mormon") and play at the same time."
Joe Dziemianowiczny, NY Daily News: "In Mike Nichols' powerful and emotionally rich revival at the Barrymore, Philip Seymour Hoffman resists playing Willy as larger than life, but to scale. As a result, the play has never felt more like an ensemble drama. That fits. It's a story of a desperate family, not just the delusional dad."
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: "Hoffman faces a big problem in that he's 44 to Willy's 60. It's hard to buy him not only as a man nearing retirement age, but as the father of two grown sons. [...] Despite its central miscasting, the production is quite watchable. A big reason is the power of the play itself."