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THEATER REVIEW - "Death Of A Salesman"


“Death of a Salesman” - Produced by: Star Playhouse– Commack

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Few, if any occupations are less rewarding than that of traveling salesman. It’s an economic fact of life that legendary playwright Arthur Miller seemed to sense intuitively, and he transferred that insight into breathtaking dialogue with his masterpiece ‘Death of a Salesman.’ The classic is playing now at the luxurious Star Playhouse in Commack.

This drama, centered on over-the-hill Willy Loman (played by Steven Fallis) and his semi-dysfunctional family, is probably one of the most depressing plays ever penned by an American author, though to be fair to the profession that Miller treats as an exercise in loneliness and disappointment, selling can be enormously satisfying. The truth of the old saying that, “…nothing in business ever happens until somebody sells something…” seems to have escaped the otherwise perceptive playwright.

That observation aside, the actors currently undertaking the demanding roles in ‘…Salesman’ are generally faithful in presenting Arthur Miller’s haunting tale of misery and decline in late middle age. Particularly effective is Staci Rosenberg-Simons, who plays Loman’s long-suffering wife, and who defends Willy at every turn, only to be rebuffed by her inconsiderate sons … and even the husband she so fiercely supports.

Ironically, the character whose every word the audience hangs on in this play (which is all about words) is salesman Loman, but it is Willy whose performance is sadly lacking in the articulation necessary to deliver Miller’s masterful lines effectively. At one point, he says to one of his useless sons, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.” It appears that Director, J. Timothy Conlon failed to pay heed to that admonition, otherwise he would never have permitted Fallis to get away with the mumbling that so detracts us from fully appreciating at least half his vital lines.

One of the greatest mumblers of all time, the late William F. Buckley, was nonetheless in demand as a commentator and debater because he had an uncanny knack for enunciating the essential portions of his speeches with dramatic timing and emphasis. It is precisely this quality of delivery that the role of Willy Loman demands … because he frequently (and appropriately) seems to be talking to himself.

It would appear that playwright Miller had the motion picture genre in mind when he wrote ‘Death of a Salesman’ because filmed close-ups and murmured passages can work on film, but the stage whisper is one of the hardest dramatic devices to pull off in the legitimate theater.

This is not to say that ‘Salesman’ as performed at the Star Playhouse is not a satisfying production … indeed it is … especially when Rosenberg-Simons as Linda Loman relates Willy’s sad story in the middle of Act I. Her heartbreaking narrative (addressed so successfully to her sons) to a large degree overcomes Sound Technician Doug Gilman’s shortcomings … which failing, I have to conclude, adds considerably to Willy’s sounding hollow much of the time.

The bare bones set, costumes, and lighting here are adequate; and they should be unobtrusive in this play that is intended to focus our attention on one man’s decline into the depths of despair and depression. Like Willy Loman’s family and neighbors, we are interested not in furniture, clothing, or spotlights … we’re riveted helplessly on this burned-out Salesman’s inevitable descent into oblivion … where one hopes he will, finally, no longer depend on a shoeshine and a smile for the recognition he craves. 


Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

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