By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
When a man spends a lifetime digging his own grave, he must, at some point, lie in it. Instead of being a smiling, smooth-talking salesman, Willy Loman (Zach Grenier) threatens, cajoles and bullies his way through life. Even though he’s just 60 years old, it’s easy to see his death looming in “Death of a Salesman.”
The eponymous title is its own spoiler. Death is most definitely coming for Loman, but will he make amends or burn the bridges behind him? Oddly, Loman does both.
More spoilers lie ahead, but the show was first produced in 1949. We can assume you heard about some of it already.
The titular salesman is hoping his sons, Biff (Alex Mickiewicz) and Happy (Maxwell Eddy) will become great men. They are not.
Happy is a jerk of a clerk. He spends most of his time carousing with women (Kristiann Menotiades and Daina Michelle Griffith). But what Happy does, doesn’t seem to matter much, because Willy is obsessed with Hap’s big brother, Biff.
Biff wants a simple life. He wants to be an outdoorsman, a farmer, but his father expects him to have a million dollar plan. He does not.
An incident from the past has caused a riff with Biff. The father/son dynamic has always been a dangerous cocktail, with equal parts love and hatred.
Loman is guilt-ridden from the aforementioned past event.
Psst! It involves ladies hosiery and beautiful, scantily-clad lady (Tressa Glover).
Loman spends a good deal of time getting his children to like him. Charley (Randy Kovitz) sums it up wonderfully in the second act, when he says to Loman, “Why must everybody like you? Who liked J.P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on — he was very well liked.”
Oddly, he never worries about whether his wife, Linda (Kathleen McNenny), likes him or not. Not only does she like him, she adores him, even though it threatens her relationship with her adult children. If only she knew the truth! Hint: see above referenced woman and pantyhose.
Miller won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, when he wrote “Death of a Salesman.” While it holds up in most places, it seems overwritten by today’s standards. Though it is a little long, there is some great dialogue.
The smaller roles are performed expertly. Menotiades and Griffith’s roles are infinitesimal, but they do a fantastic job, and seeing Glover on any stage is always delightful.
Kovitz’s Charley is sensational. The character has his own love/hate relationship with Loman and it’s played admirably. You can almost see the pity in Charley’s eyes when he hands Loman a wad of cash.
The boys, Biff and Hap (Mickiewicz and Eddy), do a great job. Eddy’s Hap is particularly charismatic and charming.
There is great expectation in seeing Zach Grenier, television’s smarmiest divorce lawyer, David Lee of Lockhart/Gardner (from “The Good Wife”), unfortunately with great expectation comes a disappointment. Grenier dials up the mumblecore to eleven, making “Before Sunset” look clear and concise. He muttered his way through the role. He plays Willie Loman as a downtrodden Donald Trump on a radio station that isn’t quite on the right frequency, loud yet garbled.
As for McNenny’s Linda, one couldn’t help but think that there are plenty of “women of a certain age” who would kill in that role. They would crush it. McNenny seems to be too young and too pretty for the character. Linda should look more like Barbara Bush, and less like a young Sharon Lawrence. Even though, Sherry Deberson does her best to gray McNenny’s hair, she still looks too beautiful for Linda.
The audience is meant to have a tremendous sympathy for Linda, but its hard here. She is acting older than she is and its distracting.
Not as distracting as the dissonant flute sounds that punctuate this play.
Normally, the set at a Public show is a crowning achievement, a veritable showcase (like the sumptuous set of “Daddy Long Legs”). James Noone usually does remarkable work. Unfortunately, the “Death” set was perfunctory, utilitarian; most likely due to the multiple scene changes. Eerie lighting design by Dennis Parichy made up for it. There are flashback/visions of Ben (Tuck Milligan) and the Woman (Glover) that were downright haunting.
“Death of a Salesman” is an American classic, and it’s an important work. It does resonate so much with today’s society, and, after all, attention must be paid.
“Death of a Salesman” is at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.