Death of a Salesman

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 10, 2017

Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Charley and Stephen Berenson as Willy Loman
Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Charley and Stephen Berenson as Willy Loman  

William has been a salesman for his entire adult life, it seems, and for him the memories are the best part of that. When things were easier, the clients familiar and willing to buy just about anything from this energetic guy back in his youth. Except that now he's 63 years old, the lines are blurring: the past, the present and the future may only look promising but in actuality is the bleakest thing this man will ever face.

William "Willy" Loman (Stephen Berenson) and his wife Linda (Phyllis Kay) live in Brooklyn with their sons Biff (Matt Lytle) the elder, and Harold "Happy" (Billy Hutto), the younger brother. Willy is older, deluded and reduced to traveling around the East Coast for straight commission. Once a maverick at his craft, now struggling just to get in his car and drive anywhere. Following an accident, Linda worries that he'll crash the car again looking for the success that has eluded him pretty much his entire life.

Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about chasing the American dream through business and family has never seemed more relevant as it does today. Written in 1949, Miller explores one man's dream of success not only for himself but for his two sons who never really grew up to be anything. Even his neighbor Charley (Fred Sullivan, Jr.) knows that Willy and his sons are just average working stiffs, yet feels sorry for him. And Willy admires Charley and his successful son Bernard (Tyler Herman) but treats him terribly when he comes over for card games.

Seeing "Death of a Salesman" is a treat, but only if the actors are capable of fleshing out these complicated characters, indeed Loman is the consummate everyman: driven to make a decent living and raising his sons to do the same. But Willy imagines things that never happened, talking to the older brother (Mauro Hantman) he never knew, and when he asks his boss to take him off the road and into a sales position in the city, he is dismissed. He is, in essence, imploding and taking his family with him.

Director Brian McEleney makes good use of the newly remodeled space at Trinity Rep, and his actors as well. Keeping the setting to minimal use of props and lighting, it nevertheless allows the drama to unfold almost organically. We're voyeurs in the Loman household, to fascinating measure.

Hutto as Hap is bright, wide-eyed and willing to do anything to win his parents' approval. Herman as the younger "nerdy" Bernard gives way to an accomplished adult; he is excellent. Lytle has the tough assignment of bringing Biff to life, and he succeeds wonderfully, his inner turmoil playing out in the second act.

Kay absolutely shines as Linda, who probably knows that her husband is heading for disaster but supports him anyway, warning off her sons for not supporting him. The always solid Sullivan makes Charley the loud neighbor more than just a caricature, he shines, as well. Hantman makes the most of his two authoritative roles and exudes confidence.

But it's Berenson at the center of this drama, and his heartbreaking performance, that cements this fascinating production of a very important work. Bring your friends and family to see this show; this "Salesman" will have you talking about it for days after.

"Death of a Salesman" runs through November 26 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903. For information or tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com