Death of a Salesman
Presented at the Theater Down Town, Orlando, FL • Playing through 4.17.99
Carl F Gauze
Poor, tired Willy. As the years go by, his house is surrounded by cheap high rises, and his life is surrounded by ever more insulting failures. He can’t drive anymore. He can’t seem to sell anymore. All his friends are dead or retired. Worst of all, his two sons have failed him. Football star Biff knocks about out west, drifting from one menial job to another. After eight years, his other son, Hap, has almost, but not quite, made shipping clerk. Hap’s favorite hobby is sleeping with the fiancées of the store executives where he works. Only Willy’s wife still loves him, and dusts off his coat, but Willie refuses to notice her. The only things keeping him going are his dogged salesmanship, optimism, and his ability to only hear what he wants by never letting the other guy get a word in edgewise. Willie is surrounded by people, and still so alone. He can’t even figure out why Biff has just laid down and given up. Willy knows exactly why, but he still can’t figure it out. Poor, tired Willy.
Willy’s older brother Ben has just died in distant Africa. Ben was always the successful one, entering Africa at 17 and returning at 21, rich. Ben’s spirit, and the ghost of “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” haunts Willy as he drifts in and out of reality. His sons are no help. Every conversation with them runs from love to hate to disgust to incipient fisticuffs and back again. Should they lie to him? Tell him the truth? Run away? Does it matter? Only his loving wife Linda has his number. His bad driving isn’t just old age — it’s attempted suicide. Even now, Willy plans to cheat her from that last little bit of love and make one last attempt to be a hero. Like his whole life, it too fails. Poor, tired Willy.
Death of a Salesman was written 50 years ago, yet it is surprisingly modern in structure. Past and present interact in Willie’s mind as characters flip between then and now. The viewers must feel their way through the welter of conflicting thoughts and emotions Willy feels as his world contracts around him. The set is compact and claustrophobic. The actors work in close proximity to one another, and everything feels smaller than life. Davis Storrs looks and feels the part of Willy. Grizzled, blowhard, and stooped, he works harder than anyone to appear tired beyond his years, and tired beyond Willy’s years. Annie Kidwell (Linda), Stephen Middleton (Hap), and Tom Taylor (Biff) form the ideal 1940s dysfunctional family, always ready to hug or slug each other at a moment’s notice. This is one of the classic American plays, a play still imitated in many forms to this day. The Theatre Downtown performance is masterful, and provides a setting intimate enough to make you glad you’re not related to the people on stage. Willy can’t sell socks, but he can sure sell this play.