It had been a while since I last had the chance to see a show in the grand yet intimate space that is Ford’s Theatre. Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, at Ford’s through October 22, was a treat, and I must insist that you see the classic play.
The performance started with a somber stillness in the air, as the little house suspended above the stage glowed mysteriously, and ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. Directed by Stephen Rayne, the play is as much of a masterpiece today as it was in 1949. And although the play is three full hours, you never think to leave your seat. The laughter, groans and suppressed tears – all responses triggered by the protagonist – leave you empty and in need of a hug as you exit the theater.
The truthfulness and vulnerability of every character was felt and understood. The generational concerns of lost identities, going through the motions of life feeling duped paired with a sense of inevitable failure, and the struggles of facing reality are themes that resonate with audiences and have a place in societal discourse today. Craig Wallace’s portrayal of Willy Loman, a salesman living through his last 24 hours on Earth, is chilling. The actor’s ability to seamlessly go from spouting coherently joyous or inimical tales to delusional rants with himself will give you pause.
Death of a Salesman is the epic story of a father and husband who did everything a man in the 1940s was expected to do, including have an extramarital affair, but who still grappled with the sense of feeling inadequate. He believed he gave his sons everything, and after working from the bottom of the business ladder to support his family, he expected that he would be able to depend on the success of his sons in his retirement years. This hopeful dream goes unrealized, and the reasons why are played out carefully on the three-tier stage that whimsically transports audiences from present to past, from New York to Boston. The story effortlessly unfolds as audiences witness the innocent – and not-so-innocent – mistakes made by the whole family.
While this is definitely a male-dominated story, actress Kimberly Schraf – who plays Linda, the matriarch of the family – made certain to leave her mark onstage. Battling between loyalty to her husband and her desire to maintain a united family is the dilemma that forces Linda to ferociously shout at her sons, causing the most frightening reaction. One would never expect the mousy, submissive and nurturing woman displayed to explode in such a manner. It seems evident that one’s threshold and the power of love can bring strength to the forefront. To sum it all up, Schraf’s heartfelt performance was simply that – heartfelt.
The performances by the remaining family members that carried this tale were also endearing. The slapstick comedy delivered by Happy (Danny Gavigan) and Biff (Thomas Keegan) was hilarious. Keegan and Gavigan not only played humorous 30-year-old men, but also the same character 17 years earlier. Their high energy never wavered, and the whole gamut of emotions was expressed without skipping a beat. It was sublime. It was a world in and of itself – the cast, the setting, the lighting and the sound effects, all perfectly timed and perfectly executed, make this production worth seeing.
Death of A Salesman runs through October 22. Tickets start at $25. Learn more here.
Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org