Thursday, April 21, 2011

Death Takes a Salesman: New Moon scores with an Arthur Miller classic

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Janie Paris and Ron Gephart
  • Janie Paris and Ron Gephart
Unadorned. That’s the best description I can muster for the New Moon theatre company’s Death of a Salesman which closes at TheaterWorks this weekend. That probably sounds like a mild complaint but I mean it as sincere praise. Because this Salesman is a fine example of how little you need to create an impact in the theater when you begin with strong material and artists who trust it.

Spoiler Alert: Willy Loman—Arthur Miller's titular salesman— dies. But you probably knew that already. The modern classic ends with his widow—played here by Janie Paris— kneeling beside a fresh grave, unable to cry. “I made the last payment on the house,” she tells her dead husband, the small, imperfect EveryAmerican-Capitalist who spent the last few days of his pavement-pounding life confused, jobless, worried that he wouldn’t have enough money to fix the refrigerator let alone keep his home. “We’re free,” Paris says. "We're free."

It’s hard to watch Paris speak these words from Salesman's closing scene and not believe that this 62-year old drama says more about America today than anything written in the last 10-years.

“They took out the biggest ad” Loman says earlier in the play, bragging on his excellent taste in refrigerators. One little line can say so much about a man.

Loman bets big on appearances, popularity, and the positive, big-dreaming language of self-actualization. Caveat Emptor? Those are just loser words in a dead language. There’s no way the Salesman could be sold a line of cheap goods. Who needs to be well informed when you're well liked and well laid? That's how the world works, right? When you’re a boy?

Ron Gephart is an unusually soft-spoken Willy Loman and he is uncommonly sympathetic as Miller’s little man who gets every bit as tired as a big man. He is the modern condition, distracted by regret, twitching with misplaced ambition and unfocused rage. Somebody lied to him. And he passed the lie along.

“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away,” Loman tells his boss, the young, image-conscious son of the Company’s founder. The boss, is coolly played by Wesley Barnes whose mere tolerance of Loman barely conceals a revulsion bordering on contempt. "A man is not a piece of fruit,” Gephart shouts, like he might be having a man to man disagreement. But Willy Loman isn't talking to a man he's talking to the invisible hand of the Market. He's summarily discarded. The play goes on but that’s the final curtain.

Brian Everson and Tripp Hurst are a rambunctious combo as Loman’s sons, Biff and Happy. Both are infected by their father’s misconceptions and puffed up with unearned pride.

Loman’s got a neighbor, Charlie. Charlie’s a nerd and so’s his kid. They are both very successful. And even though the old salesman borrows Charlie’s money knowing he’ll never be able to repay he makes fun of his neighbor. Because he's a nerd and that's what well liked men do, they make fun of nerds. Entertainment writer Jon Sparks makes Charlie a wise and even-tempered, but not above trying to take a little of his own money back from WIllie at the card table. For having not appeared on stage in 40 years, the unassuming Sparks doesn’t seem to have missed a beat.

Director Marler Stone assembled a top notch ensemble but Paris’s voice lingers after everything else fades away.

“We’re free,” she says linking the American dream of ownership with the language of slaves.

If you’ve got time for one show this Easter weekend, this would be my recommendation. It’s simple, old fashioned, and as fresh as it's ever been.

When: Through April 24
Price: $15 general admission/$12 seniors, students, and military
TheatreWorks
OVERTON SQUARE 2085 Monroe
274-7139

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