Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Death of a Salesman (NYC)
Death of a Salesman. Thanks to a generous donation by the Daddy foundation, I was finally able to see this show.
Here’s the thing, I LOVE Miller – probably more than a single human should. I love him for reasons I will talk about later in this blog even.
It should come as no big surprise then that I LOVED this version of it. I mean, I’m not gonna say Miller is easy, because I don’t think he is. However, when he is done well, it is effortless to watch the story unfold on stage. Miller believed this story to be a layer cake of time (his analogy, not mine), and this version does that brilliantly – moving through walls in the past and obeying them in the present – subtle but effective. Honestly, my big problem with the show was Phillip Seymor Hoffman. I really wanted him to use his mouth more so I could understand him more. I thought Andrew Garfield held his own with PSH and Linda Edmond though. (Though, to be honest, my date had to tell me that Garfield was famous… I’m bad at that game.) I do think that this production did an interesting thing by making Biff’s character far more central to the story than I think I have ever seen or read it as. To be honest, I loved it and re-read the script to see what I had missed in my prior readings to miss that. I’m not saying that Biff isn’t always important, I think he is. But in my head, and when I read it, this is Willy’s show, and the other characters support Willy. In this version, however, Biff’s story was just as important by itself as Willy’s – willing to admit this might be a fault in the way I was reading it, but this is my third production of it, and my first to have the realization, so I feel confident that it isn’t just me.
And now we get to why I love Miller so much.
In undergrad, I had a WONDERFUL prof, Doc Berger, and he taught me many things. One that we totally disagreed on was Miller. We fought about it on more than one occasion. And the basic fight was this: Doc believed that there were no playwrights as great as Shakes since that time, because, he said, no one was universal or as timeless as Shakes is. I disagreed. I say Miller has hit upon some very universal truths of his own. As proof, I offered The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. One of the longest debates the two of us ever had was over Death. (Made all the more ironic because he directed Death the next year.) (Also, The Crucible? Because what is less universal across the ages and globe than a small group of people holding a larger group of people hostage through fear?)
One of the amazing things about this show was that it reminded me of this old debate, and, I think, helped prove me right.
All shows should speak to the audience that watches it. That’s what it means to be universal. Watching a show and seeing what the society that produced it might have thought, and what the society (or part of it) who is currently watching it is thinking, I think, is the pentacle of the universal timeless play. To me, this production speaks of a world moving on without the older generation, of a world that cares more about fancy toys than human beings – in modern terms, Willy Lohman is the 99%.
More than economics,, this show speaks to what it means to live your dreams, to understand what your dreams are. Miller asks us to be honest with ourselves about our past and what it means. I mean, everyone polishes up their past; everyone is the protagonist in their own story; everyone wants to believe the best in themselves and those around them, those they love. But Miller reminds us that those of us who are strong enough to see who we really are, what we are really capable of, what we have really want, what we have really done, who we have really hurt, who we have really helped and what we really are the ones who walk away with the ground firmly under our feet and an actual chance at happiness. Miller reminds us that it is by putting your brain and it’s false beliefs and remembrances aside and listening and accepting the truth of your soul and heart that you find where you are supposed to be. Thank you for that universal truth Arthur Miller. It means as much today as when you wrote it. And I feel certain that it will mean just as much in 100 years.