BWW Interviews: A Chat with Stars and Director of Classic Theatre's DEATH OF A SALESMAN
After five and a half years of residence at the Blue Star Arts Complex, Classic Theatre of San Antonio has made a new home in the Black Box of the Woodlawn Theatre! Their debut production in the new space, Death of a Salesman, opened this past weekend and runs thru February 23rd.
The play is not just about American fathers and sons; Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman has themes that are universal: love, betrayal, expectations, hopes, and the American Dream. The story is iconic, about an everyman with aspirations for something greater, to leave a legacy that his world will remember him for, and the tragic loss of that dream at the hands of an ever changing world around him. Salesman has had a lasting impact on American literature and earned not only the Pulitzer Prize for Drama but the Tony Award for Best Play in 1949. Since then it has been an educational staple, taught in English and Drama Departments in high schools, colleges and universities throughout the country since its mass publication in the 1950s.
BroadwayWorld recently had a chance to connect with Allan S. Ross and Terri Pena Ross, who star as Willy and Linda Loman, respectively, as well as the production's director, Jim Mammarella. Here's what they have to say about the production...
BWW: How did the decision to do Death of a Salesman come about?
TERRI PENA ROSS: Death of a Salesman is considered by many as the "Great American Tragedy." It consistently is in the top three of the best plays of all times. At Classic Theatre we always try to do significant plays with great literary quality.
JIM MAMMARELLA: The mission of Classic Theatre is to "reinvigorate and create new audiences for theatre by presenting professional productions of popular classics and forgotten masterpieces for residents of and visitors to San Antonio." I am a guest director at Classic, but a quick look at their first five seasons will show that they have chosen recognized classics and in some rare cases "soon to be classics." Death of a Salesman has been consistently recognized as one of, if not the greatest, American play.
BWW: Death of a Salesman is such an iconic piece of American drama. How is it to approach such a familiar and celebrated play?
JIM MAMMARELLA: I approached this play as I do all plays; with a great deal of research. I read critical analyses, reviews, and studied past productions (Dustin Hoffman, Lee J. Cobb, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, to name a few) and productions and the visions of other directors like Elia Kazan (the original director with Lee J. Cobb) and even productions in other countries like the Chinese and Japanese productions. The background preparation is a daunting task. Knowledgeable theatre audiences have high expectations that Miller's brilliant work will not be taken out of context or "modernized." Even though this play takes place in 1949 the themes of this play still ring true today.
ALLAN S. ROSS: It boiled down to a family's story. The flow and ebb of success and failures, misunderstandings and hurts. But that constant commitment to each other, the tie of love that binds them.
BWW: Why do you think the play's been so well received and well respected over the years?
ALLAN S. ROSS: I think its insight into an ordinary, everyday working man. The struggle to be a success in his own eyes, the success for his sons, to be someone is this world of so many.
JIM MAMMARELLA: As I stated above ,the theme that we pass along to our children the idea of the "American Dream;" that our children will live better lives than ours because we gave them the chance to do so. For the average Willy Loman this is our legacy and life's accomplishment. The fact that Willy ruined his son's opportunity to have a successful life is the stuff that makes great tragedy. Miller was fascinated with Greek tragedy and his other plays like View From the Bridge and All My Sons reflects that a man (or woman) does not have to be of royal linage to be a classic tragic figure. Miller projects his characters and stories into our lives and allows us to see the possibility that the choices of the common man can lead to disaster.