Death, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (directed by Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell, Piccadilly Theatre)

This is the American play, judging by the number of revivals — I’ve seen screen versions with Warren Mitchell and Dustin Hoffman and a stage version with Roy Barraclough. This transfer from the Young Vic is not the first African American version, and the shift between ethnicities seems remarkably smooth. There are hints in the direction of the Loman’s family past of slavery plantations and his wish to live the American Dream seems even more poignant, the dice even more loaded. His rejection by colleagues has a hint of unspoken racism, the brother’s line about going to Africa added resonance.

So Wendell Pierce of The Wire is Willy, the salesman past his best, only as good as his contacts, still on the crumbs of commission, still on the road as he tries to pay off the mortgage.A crisis is coming as his two sons return to be under he and his wife’s roof, just like the old days. But the men have secrets and it’s not going to go well.

It has the inevitability of a tragedy, as you hope for the best and see the cracks growing. It becomes a play about fragile masculinity — aside from Linda Loman (Sharon D. Clarke, as excellent as she was in Caroline), the women seem little more than sex objects. It is in the scenes where she speaks to her sons or towards the end that you get beyond the Loman boys’ view of women.

It might not be enough, as the play seems very long and you might almost want what is going to happen to get on and happen already. You might, almost, for all the sympathy, begin to wonder if Willy isn’t a bit of a jerk.

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