By Barb Vitello
A gifted cast, discerning direction and an intriguing set make for The Hypocrites’ eloquent revival of “Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Millers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy about a low man destroyed by his unwavering devotion to the American dream, which unbeknownst to him, does not come one size fits all.
Dreams must be custom-made. With a proper fit they bring contentment and security; without it, they’re filled with despair and regret.
Miller’s doomed protagonist Willy Loman fails to find a dream that fits.
Rejecting the tradesman’s flannel shirt for the salesman’s gray flannel suit, he abandons the promise of fulfillment on the frontier (the life his brother, father and son chose which he seems destined for too). Instead he consigns himself to the urban jungle where his meager success does not ease the longing in his soul and where his dream ends up in tatters.
That Miller’s aching indictment of a society that values material worth over personal satisfaction, style over substance and professional success over all resonates as powerfully today as it did upon its premiere 56 years ago, testifies to the playwright’s eloquence and acumen. That people willfully and happily buy into that myth reveals just how hard some dreams die.
The brilliant Bill McGough stars as Willy, the aging traveling salesman no longer at the top of his game.
Increasingly agitated about his dwindling income and downward spiraling career, Willy suffers an emotional breakdown that shatters his fragile family consisting of wife Linda, (the quietly graceful Donna McGough, playing opposite her real life husband), Biff (Robert McLean, inspiring as the prodigal son who confronts harsh reality) and Happy (Ryan Bollettino, robust and charming who brings depth to the static role of a man destined to repeat his father’s mistakes).
Each performance in this highly accomplished revival exemplifies the fine sense of dynamics courtesy of Sean Graney’s well-modulated direction. The production also features arresting visuals from Graney (who has a penchant for them) and an intriguing, raked set by Graney and Jim Moore where the furniture is askew and the backdrop consists of the closed doors Willy has too often encountered.
McGough delivers a thoughtful, deliberate performance as a man weighed down by failure and guilt, whose stooped shoulders, quivering voice and darting eyes speak of his fear and loneliness. McGough skillfully punctuates his slow crescendo toward despair and madness with affection and humor that reflects a the keen sense of dynamics that defines good acting.
Donna McGough turns in a tour-de-force performance as the kindly, long-suffering and resolute wife who defends her husband with the ferocity of a lioness protecting her cubs. Hers is an unhurried, wonderfully cadenced performance, wonderfully expressed in her “attention must be paid” speech which is powerful for its restraint.
Alternately desperate and accommodating, McLean delivers an expressive and heartfelt performance. His thousand-yard stare at the end of Act I as he contemplates the professional oblivion looming is priceless and his strangled cries at uncovering his father’s indiscretions are heartbreaking. And his final declaration of independence thrills and devastates.
The outstanding supporting cast includes Kurt Ehrmann, projecting quiet strength and clear-headed compassion as Charley, Willy’s neighbor and only friend. Other standouts include Christopher Meister as Bernard, the butt of the Loman’s jokes turned successful lawyer and Jason Powers as the young, not entirely unsympathetic boss who doesn’t let family ties impact his business decisions.
Ultimately, the tragic flaw that destroys Willy isn’t his unquestioning acceptance of a frayed American dream, it is his lack of insight (or his unwillingness to act the little he possesses) and his infidelity not just to his wife but to the man he should have been. Unfaithful to his true nature, he pursues the wrong dream, sealing his own fate.