Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Manoa Valley Theatre

Run extended through June 9

By: Jun. 04, 2024
Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Manoa Valley Theatre
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What is the American Dream, really? And who gets to live it?

These are questions at the heart of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 1949 play Death of a Salesman. Since its Broadway debut, heralded by critics as “the first great American tragedy”, the play’s embodiment of the timeless interconnectivity of family, economy, and human folly have left audiences forever changed. Salesman illuminated the epic rises and falls usually reserved for kings and emperors and brought it into the world of a mundane Brooklyn family, a beautiful and charged testament to the universal capacity for joy and tragedy that is shared by all humans, not just the ones who make it into the history books. The play has enjoyed multiple revivals across the years and multiple productions across the globe, suggesting that the intersection of ambition and hubris is not unique to Brooklynites, or to Americans.

This Linda Johnson-directed production at Manoa Valley Theatre breathes new life into the Lomans and their world, set against an appropriately minimal set designed by Michelle A. Bisbee, and lit by Janine Myers. Here, we are introduced to patriarch Willy Loman (Dwight T. Martin), his long-suffering but fiercely loyal wife Linda (Amy K. Sullivan), recently-returned eldest son Biff (Matthew Miller), and their younger son, the over-eager Happy (Thomas T.C. Smith). Right from the jump, the audience is drawn into a world of shadows and secrets, of despair and misery bubbling just under the surface of the carefully-crafted masks worn by every member of the family. As the play progresses, the cracks in the foundation get wider and wider as the family’s woes are played out against a variety of neighbors and colleagues, and the stark light of truth begins to burn away the illusion. What remains is the husk of what was once the "All-American Family”. We are inevitably left with the questions posed at the beginning of this article—questions which have never been adequately answered in the 75 years since Salesman debuted, which is perhaps a major reason why this play has resonated with so many for so long.

There’s something incredibly poetic about the legend-in-his-own-mind Willy Loman being played so deftly and poignantly by local legend Dwight T. Martin, in the theatre that is quite literally dedicated to him (in recognition of his 38 years of service as the Producing Director of MVT). As Willy, his bombast and emotionally manipulative behavior is uncomfortable to witness, but it seems clear that he is an anchor to the rest of cast, allowing for a gripping rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows throughout the show—culminating in a truly spectacular tête-à-tête climax between Willy and Biff that left me with chickenskin all over.

Whether this is your first or your tenth time seeing this American classic, you owe it to yourself to head up into the valley and to step into Arthur Miller’s timeless masterpiece.

Attention must be paid.

Death of a Salesman runs through June 9th.


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