BWW Reviews: The Alley's DEATH OF A SALESMAN is a Beautifully Tragic Pristine Production
With stunning emotional clarity, The Alley Theatre is presenting Arthur Miller's quintessentially American and classic family drama DEATH OF A SALESMAN as part of their 2012-2013 season. The play premiered in 1949 and has become a show of legendary status in the development of American dramatic theatre. It most recently enjoyed a successful Broadway revival that closed on June 2, 2012 and starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman.
The play, originally titled THE INSIDE OF HIS HEAD, takes the audience through the mind of Willy Lowman as he struggles with the pressures of paying all the bills after his job has significantly reduced his compensation. Additionally, the audience watches as Willy Loman falls apart while attempting to reconcile some sort of meaningful, working relationship with his adult sons. As presented by The Alley, this intense and tear inducing drama is thought-provoking and revelatory.
Gregory Boyd's direction of the play is exceptional. The weighty material never drags and each emotion is given the utmost importance, allowing the audience not to simply witness the turmoil of the characters but to truly feel it and understand it. With Gregory Boyd's direction the play is just as cerebral as it is heartbreaking, allowing the audience to delve deep into Arthur Miller's richly thematic text and derive meaning from the play that is just as relevant, if not more so, in 2012 as it was in 1949.
Starring as Willy Loman, Glenn Flesher adroitly brings the character to striking life. The audience simply gets lost in his ambitious dreaming and constantly hopes, like Willy, for positive outcomes along the way. His Willy Loman is the consummate dreamer always chasing success and wondering "what's the secret." Brilliant throughout the entire performance, watching Glenn Flesher deliver his Act II monologue in Howard Wagner's office is utterly compelling and supremely rewarding. He brings sincerity, grit, and honesty to each line and strikes a fantastic cord as he proclaims, "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit." Towards the end of Act II, Glenn Flesher brings his characterization to the visceral level, ultimately causing the audience to remove all the oxygen from the auditorium with an audible gasp in the play's devastating climatic moment.
Zachary Spicer as Biff is fantastic. He expertly navigates the role, imbuing it with childlike charm and charisma. Biff's struggles with settling down and finding himself are tangible and relatable, especially since he is so imbued with classic American ideals and dreams. Zachary Spicer's magnetism easily wins the audience over, which renders the audience silent and bates their breath during his pristinely executed and superbly acted Act II fight with Glenn Flesher's Willy.
As Linda, Josie de Guzman is divine perfection. Having previously only seen her in humor-filled roles, I was simply stunned and blown away by how adroitly she brings tangible emotional clarity to the role. Her discussion of the rubber hose at the end of Act I caused tears to well in my eyes. Josie de Guzman's Linda's is driven by her desire to keep the family unit intact and functional, and she easily breaks the audience's heart when she allows her character to become enraptured in misery. Then she steals our hearts away, breaking them even further with the dramatic irony of the situations in which Linda is allowed to experience hope for something better.
Jay Sullivan does a great job with Happy, filling every moment on stage with his own selfish ambition. He presents Happy as a character that truly does not let himself be bothered by others misfortunes as long as it doesn't affect him.
Uncle Ben, played by Todd Waite, is delightfully menacing. Uncle Ben is the standard that Willy constantly measures his personal success against, never finding happiness in what he has achieved because Uncle Ben's life seems so much more exotic and opulent. This aspect of the character is purposefully and successfully utilized in each moment Todd Waite is on stage.
The rest of the cast performs their assigned roles with sheer professionalism and is wonderfully convincing in their portrayals. For example, Melissa Pritchett's The Woman is played so well that the audience easily dislikes her as a character.
Hugh Landwehr's set is dark and atmospheric. The reflective floors add a nice touch to the play, especially when Willy gets lost in his own self-reflection and introspective moments. The use of tightly strung wires across the arch, back wall, and having them mirrored in the flooring helps the audience to further understand the tight wires that each character is walking and the peril that each decision plays on their ability to balance in life. The inclusion of these wires is stark yet beautiful and altogether appreciatively inspired.
Judith Dolan's costume design is faultless. Each piece appears to have leapt out of a time machine and onto the actors. Subtle details, such as the men wearing their pants (including their pajamas) at their actual waists and the knitted letterman jacket really helped to transport the audience to the late 40s.
Pamela Prather's dialect coaching really shines as well. It is hard to believe that the actors on the stage are not real New Yorkers. Simply put, the appropriate Brooklyn and New York accents are used pristinely employed by each member of cast.
Lighting design by Pat Collins is fantastic. Most of the show is dim, not casting much ambient light into the auditorium and focusing the audience's eyes on the action of the play at all times. The lighting design wonderfully captures and enhances the tone of the show, especially as the back wall gradually grows darker in hue as the play gets closer to its end. Then the design, especially the strobes, for the climactic moment towards the end of Act II is a powerful choice and enhances the performance of the moment by jarring the audience with a hefty shift in the visual approach of the play at that precise moment.
Josh Schmidt's original compositions for the underscored moments are haunting and add a nice layer on top of the perfected performances. Likewise, his sound design for the apparitions of Willy's past utilizes an echo affect to masterfully convey to the audience which characters are interacting with Willy in his recollections of the past. This creates an easily noticeable and accessible contrast to the non-effected voices of the people interacting with him in the present.
The Alley's production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN is an emotionally driven, beautifully tragic drama. It captures the vivre of the American Dream and exposes both the negatives of being wholly consumed by chasing that dream. Every aspect of the production is immaculate, creating a theatrical experience that is powerful, moving, and ultimately enlightening. There is no question that long time patrons of The Alley are saddened not to see James Black portray Willy Loman, but Gregory Boyd's decision to cast Glenn Flesher in the role is truly a fantastic one, and audiences will find themselves thoroughly impressed by the production while keeping James Black in their thoughts with sincere well wishes.
The Alley's magnificent production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN runs through October 28, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.alleytheatre.org or call (713) 220 – 5700.
Photos by Jann Whaley.