DEATH OF A SALESMAN: A 21st Century Looking Glass
Arthur Miller believed that the role of playwrights (and of dramatic works) was to ask difficult questions about the notion of responsibility and morality and, in turn, challenge individuals to create change both in their daily lives and the world. He once said that "the mission of theatre is to raise the consciousness of people to their human possibilities" and in choosing Death of A Salesman, a work which closely mirrors that sentiment, as the first work as a part of their 2019 season, I don't think I'd be wrong to assume that artistic director Sam Strong and the team behind Queensland Theatre think on the same length as Miller...
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and heralded as one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, the play revolves around the ambitions and the refusal of letting go of dreams that were once promised of Willy Loman, a sixty-three-year-old diffident, unstable and self-deluded salesman. Struggling to make his mortgage repayments and about to be fired by the company that he was laboured tirelessly for, Loman starts to blur his past and present selves together, triggered even more so by the arrival of his university drop-out son Biff. It's of no coincidence that Willy sounds like 'will he', and that Lohman sounds like 'low man' which represents the way Willy feels internally. In a 'Season of Dreamers', Willy Loman fits in perfectly; with his ambitions for his son and himself.
When most people go to see a production, the first thing they often do is to admire the work of the actors and whilst the performances were of a very high calibre, I couldn't help but fall in love with Jason Klarwein's direction. Every movement and transition on stage was so beautifully crafted. In partnership with set designer Richard Robert, Klarwein was able to make an already powerful drama into an even more powerful being. The work was moulded to fit inside the frames of a child's dollhouse; the characters becoming figurines that darted about from room to room, up and down the stairs, in and out of the front door - all controlled by society's invisible hand looming high above the curtains walls. This doll-house allusion was maintained when the characters stayed frozen in their rooms as soon as 'the hand' didn't want to play with them anymore.
It truly fermented the image of society controlling each characters' thoughts and actions and, more specifically, of a capitalist society controlling (and restricting) our definitions of freedom and ambition. It's sad to think that for Willy, freedom equates to having a stable job and financial security, but it's even more sadder to think that in our contemporary society, for many, if not all of us, that definition still bares its ground. Similar to Willy, for us twenty-first century dwellers, unemployment means that we can't support ourselves or our family; it means that we don't have a roof in our head but at the same time, we would give anything to not to work as much so that we could spend more time with the people we love and treasure. There is no bottom line, and Miller understood that when he published this work in 1949.
Composer, sound and projection designer Justin Harrison's was cleverly constructed to serve as a lens for which the audience could see into the mechanics of Willy's mind and to watch his inner (and outer) battle with his own morality. My favourite moment of was the reveal of the chaos in Willy's mind in the final pages of the play, in which the auditorium transformed into his overlapping and arguing thoughts and in which we, the audience, were forced to share his anguish.
Peter Kowitz carried the show so exquisitely, showing the ups and downs of Willy, his sudden changes between his past and present selves and his sudden changes in temperament to the ones close to him with such truth and rawness. Angie Milliken managed to give Linda Loma such a strong voice, even though her character was so confined by societal expectations. Like Kowitz, she too brought such heart to the role; none more so that in the final season and in her goodbye to her husband. Jackson McGovern and Thomas Larkin had me believing from the start that they were brothers and Charles Allen's character gave me hope for what is yet to come in both the Loman's world and our world.
As a critic and an avid theatre consumer, I like going to the theatre to both be entertained to be intellectually challenged and Death of a Salesman did just that and more. Bravo.
Rating: 4.5 stars