BWW Reviews: Quartet of Tour-de-Force Performances in Classic Theatre's DEATH OF A SALESMAN
Before I share my thoughts on Classic Theatre's outstanding production of Death of a Salesman, I must start with my thoughts on the play itself. Lots of people consider Death of a Salesman to be the greatest American play every written. I'm not sold, though. I don't identify with Willy Loman, a man who is so disconnected from his dreams, his family, and even his reality. I don't see him as the tragic anti-hero that others make him out to be, and I don't see the play as the greatest American play or even the greatest play by Arthur Miller.
I'm thrilled that instead of being tasked with reviewing the play itself, my task is to review this incredible production. I may still not think highly of the play, but I can not praise the Classic Theatre or their performers enough. If the Classic Theatre were to do a staged reading of the phone book featuring this cast, I'd be the first to buy a ticket.
Director Jim Mammarella's unfussy staging is well matched with Miller's play and with the company of actors. Death of a Salesman is, for the most part, a four person family drama, and Mammarella places the focus squarely on the Loman family and their relationships with each other. There's an intimacy to the approach that greatly enhances the play, and when given a quartet of actors this strong, there's no reason not to highlight them.
There's no question that the role of Willy Loman is among the most demanding roles ever written. Willy is a man at the end of his rope, and over the course of the evening, the actor playing him has to show us a paradox of a man. He's submissive and aggressive, mentally unstable and yet occasionally in complete control of his mind. Allan S. Ross wonderfully handles the demands of the character with an effortless ease which is entirely intoxicating to watch. He's intense and completely believable in every moment of the play. Terri Pena Ross gives an equally spectacular performance as Willy's wife, Linda. She may be the dutiful, quintessential American housewife, but there's a fiery, courageous woman under that apron, and she's more than able to hold her own against the men in her life. As Willy's estranged son Biff, Anthony Ciaravino is somewhat reserved and quiet in the first act, a choice which serves his character well and makes his explosion in the second act all the more powerful. John Stillwaggon is superb as the Loman's youngest son, Happy. He's charming, good-looking, seemingly care-free, and (as Linda points out) a philanderer, but there's something deeper to him. He desperately wants to both protect and please dear old dad, and there's a fire in Stillwaggon's eyes whenever Willy is discussed. When the four are paired together, it's tough to catch your breath. There's an electric energy between them, and it is indeed the highlight of an altogether stellar production.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN, produced by the Classic Theatre, closes at Woodlawn Theatre's Black Box Stage today, Sunday February 23rd at 3pm. Their next production, PRIVATE LIVES, plays May 9 - May 25th. For tickets and information, please visit www.classictheatre.org