Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Ensemble Theatre Company

Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo by David Bazemore

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman isn't about the life (or death) of a salesman, per se; it's about the mentality of the hardworking American and the anticipation of the sometimes-unattainable greatness internalized within the culture as an entitlement. Willy Loman, an aging travelling salesman, is a man of deep pride and intense expectations. These qualities create an emotional roadblock that plunges him into an existential detour when he can no longer earn enough to support his family. Loman is wrapped up in the pyramid scheme of the "American Dream"--he bought in, and has been selling the lifestyle to his sons despite lacking returns on his own investment.

Ensemble's production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Joseph Hanreddy, is a funeral procession toward the inevitable fall of the spiraling Willy Loman (Henry Woronicz). The cast provides live music on stage (music direction by Barry G. Funderburg), a melancholy soundtrack to Loman's last days. Set mostly in the Lomans' home, Ensemble's production features a bare room with furniture basics to create a space of undeniable discomfort. It feels more industrial than homey, which mirrors the distress rising in Willy as the years turn their Brooklyn neighborhood into a high-rise jungle.

Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo by David Bazemore

The Loman family includes Linda (Gigi Bermingham), Willy's supportive but frequently disrespected wife, and their two sons. Biff (Trevor Peterson) is in his 30s and roams the mid-west taking labor jobs. A former high school football hero, Biff's life changed drastically when he failed to make up a math class that cost him a high school graduation and college scholarships. Younger son Happy (Alex Nee) lives a frivolous, playboy life in a low-level sales position. Both boys' lifestyles are a disappointment to their parents. Though the story takes place in the mid-20th century, Willy's relationship with his family speaks to the timeless tendency of parents to entwine their own sense of self-worth with the accomplishments of their children.

While travelling salespeople have been rendered mostly unnecessary by the changing modes of wholesale and retail, the emotional crises Willy and his family face--fear, shame, ambition, denial, and frustration--are certainly not antiquated. An interesting connection between the play and the current culture is Willy's obsession with being "well-liked" while ignoring that "liked" and "respected" are not synonymous--a concept everyone on social media should consider as they watch the "likes" tick upward on a post.

Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo by David Bazemore

Willy's awareness vacillates between the desperation of his present-day identity lost, in which he's borrowing weekly from his neighbor to make ends meet, and memories of an idealized past, in which he's a provider and patriarch that handily navigates the road to success. His inability (or unwillingness) to avoid losing himself in these flashbacks is manifested with lights, sound, and projections that fill the emptiness of his current existence with specific sensory details. When the veil between the present and the past is lifted, the walls of the Loman home rise to become an overhead canvas for projections that set the tone for his life remembered. Reminiscences of a forested Brooklyn lost to development are highlighted with an autumnal halo of foliage, the last leaves before the long winter to come. Loman's desire to reinvigorate his life is complemented by a vision of sprouts--sprouts that will never grow in a backyard blocked from sun by buildings on all sides. These nostalgic fantasies are isolated on stage with pools of light, and sometimes involve the appearance of Uncle Ben (Paul Michael Sandberg), Willy's long-estranged older brother, a man of wealth and achievement. Willy holds his brother in worshipful esteem, and yearns for the advice and approval that the ghost of Ben will never offer.

Ensemble's production of Death of a Salesman is intimate and Willy's final sacrifice is tragic and inevitable. The production offers high-caliber performances and a unique visual narrative, and it engages the audience with timely questions about inter-generational disconnect, the definition of success, and our relationship to the expectations and entitlements ascribed by our culture.


by Arthur Miller
Directed by Joseph Hanreddy

February 7-24
The New Vic Theater

UCSB Theater/Dance Kicks off Spring Quarter with VITALITY, the 2023 Spring Dance Concert Photo
Journey to UCSB’s Halten Theater this April to experience the spring dance concert, “VITALITY” debuting April 13 – 15, 2023.

Ensemble Theatre Company Partners With ONE TREE PLANTED For Upcoming Production of THE CHI Photo
Ensemble Theatre Company, Santa Barbara’s professional theatre company, has announced a partnership with “One Tree Planted,” a non-profit that aims to plant trees in California. For every ticket purchased for the upcoming play, The Children, Ensemble Theatre Company will plant one tree.  

Santa Barbara Symphony Presents Beethoven Dreams, Featuring Artistic Collaboration With En Photo
The Santa Barbara Symphony's 70th Anniversary season continues with Beethoven Dreams, on Saturday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 16 at 3:00 p.m., preceded by a pre-concert “Conversation with Kabaretti” at 2:00 pm. 

Photos: First Look at THE CHILDREN at Ensemble Theatre Company Photo
Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) will present the fourth show of its 2022-23 Season, Michael Butler, Linda Purl and Nancy Travis starring in the London and Broadway hit, THE CHILDREN, written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Jenny Sullivan. Check out photos here!

From This Author - Maggie Yates

Writer, editor, and arts critic based in Santa Barbara, California. Studied theater at UC Berkeley and writing at the read more about this author)

BWW Previews: PUFFS at the Anacapa School Of Witchcraft And WizardryBWW Previews: PUFFS at the Anacapa School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry
May 10, 2022

'Puffs,' or 'Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic' (by Matt Cox and presented this week by the students of the Anacapa School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), seeks to tell the stories of one of the less visible houses at a “certain school of magic”: the “puffs.”

BWW Previews: TICK, TICK ... BOOM! at Out Of The Box Theatre CompanyBWW Previews: TICK, TICK ... BOOM! at Out Of The Box Theatre Company
April 25, 2022

The main character is a musical theater writer named Jonathan who's trying to get his foot in the door in the New York theater scene. He's turning 30, his friends are moving up in their careers, and he's learning to manage expectations and reality in his life's endeavors.

BWW Review: AMERICAN SON at Ensemble Theatre At The New VicBWW Review: AMERICAN SON at Ensemble Theatre At The New Vic
April 13, 2022

There's a lot to like about Ensemble's production of American Son, Christopher Demos-Brown's play about race and privilege in American society. The play feels timely and pertinent, broaching topics that bear weight on the minds of today's human in America: namely those born from the insistent racism that seems grossly intrinsic to our culture. This representation of current events and culture is an important role for theatrical storytelling.

BWW Previews: AMERICAN SON at Ensemble Theatre CompanyBWW Previews: AMERICAN SON at Ensemble Theatre Company
April 6, 2022

Kendra (played by Tracey A. Leigh) is a Black protagonist who is managing anxiety around her missing, bi-racial son. She and her estranged partner (played by Jamison Jones), who is white, are forced to interact in the police precinct as they play this high-stakes waiting game that unfolds in real time.

BWW Previews: WHO KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE at Community Arts WorkshopBWW Previews: WHO KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE at Community Arts Workshop
March 16, 2022

Small, Ponce, and Tautz have partnered with local artists and artisans to produce free mythmaking workshops to perpetuate the arts of story creation and storytelling. From these workshops evolved 'Who Knows What You Are,' the finale performance showcasing work developed throughout the workshops. An original song cycle that incorporates theater, music, and film, this production depicts the birth of the world, 'in a mythic, surreal way.'