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BWW Review: Dynamic Ensemble Delivers Devastating Performance of DEATH OF A SALESMAN


The Rogue Theatre scores a winning production of a beloved classic.

BWW Review: Dynamic Ensemble Delivers Devastating Performance of DEATH OF A SALESMAN

In light of our national anxiety over a growing income divide, not to mention the grievous impact of a drawn-out pandemic, we can assume two public reactions to The Rogue Theatre's decision to stage DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

First, you call them out for self-indulgence (too heavy too soon?). Second, you take a shrewd posture and commend their invocation of a quintessential American tragedy.

Either way, The Rogue has no qualms about staging a play that digs deep into the moral fabric of American exceptionalism. It needs to be done.

Timing may be overrated. DEATH OF A SALESMAN will resonate until the once-illustrious American Dream transmogrifies into an odious backdrop akin to 18th-Century France. Pitchforks and all.

Hyperbole, perhaps, but nightmares do come true.

I get it - the title alone gives people a good enough reason to stay put. If somber material accounts for the sparse crowd on Opening Night, it's a damn shame because The Rogue's rendition, in simple terms, is the best treatment of Arthur Miller's monument I've seen on this side of The Great White Way. If you're on the fence, I'm here to affirm that it's a show to be seen.

As long as you're adequately inured to mediocre productions, and sick of the same pablum that passes for pop culture, make the time to observe The Rogue's finely-tuned ensemble and acknowledge the good fortune of a small market that delivers a classic with such aplomb.

Director Matt Bowdren helms this steady ship and fashions a piece of theater that strikes an impeccable balance between nuance and grandiloquence. Adhering to Miller's sensibilities, actors never go out of bounds even as they achieve their bombastic heights; conversely, poignant moments are so intimate that one feels almost privy to a character's inner resolve.

Joe McGrath is a fine Willy Loman, whose labored gait reflects the austerity of a long career and the crude nature of a changing business landscape. McGrath bears the load of Willy's misfortunes as he struggles to keep hold of a dream that has all but slipped away.

BWW Review: Dynamic Ensemble Delivers Devastating Performance of DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Central to Willy's arc lies the inexorable idealism he has long projected on his first-born son, Biff, played with excellent range by Christopher Johnson. A first-rate talent, Johnson instills a wounded tenderness beneath Biff's tough-guy exterior. Biff's - and Johnson's - blistering honesty provides the sliver of hope for a family mired in delusions.

Happy Loman, Biff's younger sibling, is not too keen to make waves, considering Willy to be too fragile, and too volatile, to entertain anyone's contradictory viewpoint. Hunter Hnat is dazzling as the optimistic foil to his older brother, but being a hero in a dysfunctional family takes its toll. Hnat plays a clever fabulist and a charming philanderer, which is Happy's way of masking his dreadful family concerns, not the least of which is his father's declining mental health.

Cynthia Meier completes the company's remarkable nucleus. She assumes Linda Loman's durability with grit and equanimity we've come to expect from an actress of Meier's seasoning. As Mrs. Loman, she rules the family with integrity and unfailing loyalty. She will defend her husband to the finish line, no matter his flaws, and boost his morale when others see only a vacant shell of his younger self.

BWW Review: Dynamic Ensemble Delivers Devastating Performance of DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Exceptional performances outside the Loman household are noted. Christopher Youngren is a refined Uncle Ben in white suit, apropos of his ghostly presence in Willy's mind. Aaron Shand is on target as Howard, Willy's self-assured boss, who's more impressed with his brand-new tape recorder than Willy's 35-year career and self-sacrifice. Charley is a sympathetic neighbor and friend, while Tyler Page displays a restrained but versatile range as Bernard. In her short sequences, Julia Balestracci drips with mordant sexuality as the woman with whom Willy has an affair.

If committing Willy's voluminous text to memory wasn't onerous enough, inveterate multitasker Joe McGrath also mustered the fortitude to design a pristine period set. The snug Loman interior is situated upstage, leaving a sprawling open space in front to administer Bowdren's lyrical scenic changes. With Don Fox's exquisite lighting, and Russell Ronnebaum's haunting aural landscape (live piano and flute), the setup feels immersive.

The socio-economic dilemma gripping our national consciousness recalls Arthur Miller's prophetic call to action. He consigns a universal principle to a personal task, which is to tell the truth in all its excruciating, grotesque forms. When Willy Loman strays and nurses a mirage, Miller assigns an inferior Biff to demand complete clarity.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN is variously relevant from a cultural standpoint, but the heart of Miller's tale speaks to the importance of family structure, betrayal, and self-preservation. It lends the mirror of a hard reality for those willing to see their own tragic flaws.

This weekend, there's no safer place to hear the truth than at The Rogue Theatre. Get your tickets.

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller

Death of a Salesman continues through January 23, 2022

Performances are Thursday-Saturday 7:30 P.M., Saturday & Sunday 2:00 P.M. ~~ (Box Office) 520-551-2053 ~~ (Ticket Line Email)

The Rogue Theatre

300 East University Blvd., Suite 150

Tucson, AZ 85705-8033

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