Saturday, September 28, 2013

Denver Center's "Death of a Saleman" ~ A Play for Our Times

My spontaneous bid in the last minutes of a silent auction
landed Terry and me at Death of a Salesman last weekend.

Tickets for a Great Production, 2013

We hopped the light rail 
and headed downtown to the Space Theatre in  
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Light Rail at Nine Mile Station

The "DCPA"  or "Denver Center" is the second largest 
performing art center in the world.
Only New York's Lincoln Center is bigger.

The Soaring Glass Roof
of The Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Denver Center has ten performance spaces
and more than 10,000 seats for theatre,
touring broadway productions, contemporary dance, ballet, 
chorales, opera, and a symphony orchestra.
Source:  Wikipedia

The Space Theatre at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts

I was really excited because there is nothing like live theatre!

Playbill:  The Denver Center for the Performing Arts

I studied this American classic a long time ago
in the fall of my first year at Acadia University,
but I had never seen the play staged.

Over the decades that have raced by, 
I never forgot Arthur Miller's compelling drama
of Willy Loman and his family.

Willy Loman is the protagonist of the play,
a 63-year-old traveling salesman,
who strove for the American Dream
and failed in his attempt.

Lee J. Cobb (Willy ~ seated )
Arthur Kennedy (Biff ~ left)
Cameron Mitchell (Happy ~ right)

Acting in the 1949 Broadway Production of 
Death of a Salesman

Source:  Wikipedia

Death of a Salesman opened at the Morosco Theatre
on Broadway on February 10, 1949.

Throughout its many productions since then, 
on broadway, on television, and in the movies,
the drama has received critical acclaim and many awards,
including the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama,
and an unprecedented four Tonys for
Best Broadway Production.

Original Playbill, Willy Loman, 1949

Source:  Wikipedia

I first studied this play in 1967,
at a time when anything seemed possible.
Yes, there were many difficult and troubling things
happening in the world then,
but we Baby Boomers believed 
that we would change the world for the better.

The play resonated with me then 
because Willy and Linda Loman made me think
of my parents and their struggle 
to provide a good education and a better future 
for my four siblings and myself.

At that time I was bubbling over with optimism 
and a sense of my world opening up and expanding.
I truly did not understand then
what it meant to work long and hard 
and to have unrealized dreams.

In Willy Loman's character, 
I glimpsed my father's darkness
and his lifelong battle to overcome
mental and physical illnesses.

In Linda, Willy's supportive wife,
I sensed my mother's deep love 
for her husband and children
and her determination to hold our family together.

I waited in the theater with such anticipation!
I wanted to see how the play would impact me
more than four decades and a lifetime later.

It seemed to take forever 
for the 450 seats 
in the Space Theatre to fill up ~
but fill up it did.

This cozy theatre-in-the-round 
with its center stage
and simple set 
provides its audience with 
an intimate experience of  
Death of a Salesman.

During the production
it feels like you can reach out
and touch the actors 
as they move about 
the almost bare stage.

The lights go down, 
the spotlight comes up,
and an exhausted Willy 
trudges in with two suitcases.

He is beaten down, and returning from 
a canceled business trip to New England.

For thirty-four years,
Willy has worked as a salesman
for the same company
pursuing the American Dream.

Throughout his long career, 
Willy has relied on
dressing right,
being well-liked,
and working hard 
to be successful.

Willy's career
is on a downhill slide.

He vacillates
recognizing his harsh reality
and hiding from the truth 
in delusions about his success
as a husband, 
a father, 
and a salesman.

Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman, 1966 TV Movie
Source:  Wikipedia

Neither he nor his sons have succeeded socially or in business.
In fact, Biff steals, and Happy chases chippies.

Linda, wife and mother, loves her family
despite the weaknesses of her husband and sons.
She worries about what will happen to them all.
She worries about Willy committing suicide.

This tragedy of the common man 
builds to a gritty and climatic family argument 
and Willy's suicide in a car accident.

Playwright Arthur Miller

Source:  Wikipedia

Back in the late 1960s,
when anything seemed possible,
I could appreciate Willy's trials on an abstract level.

Certainly my extended generations of family
shared stories of how they had survived the Great Depression.
It's effects lingered in my Great Aunt Nan's 
drying and reusing paper towels
and in the sugar-rationed recipes she still baked with.

Today, five years out from the near collapse
of the financial system and the housing market, 
Death of a Salesman resonates ~
it has a relevance today 
that it didn't have when I first read it.

For so many the American Dream is slipping away.
And for many more it seems unreachable.

Income inequality in the United States,
which is a measure of the gap,
between the rich and the poor in a society,
has increased greatly in recent decades.
The US is now has the largest income gap
of any developed country, 
especially English-speaking ones.
In fact, the US ranks just below Nigeria,
a country with some of the worst political corruption in the world,
and one which experienced a nationwide strike and protests
over income inequality last year.
Source:  The Washington Post 9/27/2013

An important part of the American Dream
are the beliefs that by working hard
you can climb higher up the economic ladder in your lifetime 
and that your children can achieve a higher standard of living
than you did during their lifetimes.

Upward mobility in the US is changing.
It no longer seems to be the land of opportunity
with exceptional mobility rates that it once was.
It now ranks with Britain in inter-generational mobility
and lags many of the twenty countries in the OECD
(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
Source:  Brookings 9/23/2013

Willy Loman's struggles are the reality 
for too many Americans today.
They reach for the American Dream
but it remains an illusion,
as they contend with unemployment,
stagnated or decreasing wages,
foreclosure, student debt,
and downward mobility.

First Edition Cover

Source:  Wikipedia

My parents sacrificed so much 
to give my three sisters, my brother, and me
an education which propelled each of us to successful careers 
and into stable, loving family relationships.

But we worry that no matter how much
we have loved, supported, and encouraged our next generation,
and no matter how hard these talented young men and women
study, work, and pursue their dreams,
they face much more challenging economic and social times 
than we ever did.

The Denver Theatre Company's production 
of Death of a Salesman is excellent.
The audience that watched this drama with us last Saturday
sat barely breathing through many riveting scenes.

Under Anthony Powell's direction, the talented actors
Mike Hartman (Willy Loman),
Laura Klein (Linda Loman)
John Patrick Hayden (Biff Loman)
and M. Scott McLean (Happy Loman),
brought this Brooklyn family's 
delusions and conflicts vividly alive.
They made it a drama for our time.

Attend this production if you can!
If you can't, consider reading this relevant classic.
It is as much about today 
as it was about the America of over sixty years ago.

For some photos of the 
The Denver Theatre Company's production click here.


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Adam! The play deserves its reputation! Have a happy week!

  2. Sounds like you had a fabulous time.

    1. Hi Jill! We thoroughly enjoyed the play, even if it was an American tragedy. Even though I'm a geologist by training, I had enough credits for a minor in theatre! I so love theatre! Have a great week!
      I'm working on the scavenger hunt!

  3. Sounds like an awesome show
    To surely give a go
    And yeah these economic times are crap
    All across the map

    1. Hey Pat! Hope all is well where you're at! Eventually we've got to dig out of this economic mess, although with the government shutdown looming who knows what will happen next. Hope your week is happy and sunny!

  4. Sounds amazing. And a bit depressing, to be honest - but then the best plays usually are tragedies and not comedies!

    Perhaps the American Dream needs to be revisited, and we should strive not for upward mobility and increasing financial success, but for simplicity with contentment. Seems a bit more attainable, and possibly a worthier goal. :)

    I do like seeing all the playbills - and the Performing Arts Center is spectacular. Thanks for the photos!

    1. Thanks for the kind words and feedback, Sue.
      I agree with you that we should focus on more fulfilling things than accumulating financial gains.

      I'm thinking more about so many people trying to rise out of poverty and trying to overcome all the setbacks they have endured in recent years. I worked in a school with a lot of poor to lower middle class hard-working people, and the devastation to families was so hard to see. I kept looking at my kiddos faces and wondering what chance in the world did they have to rise above their poverty. I think that's what drove me so hard as a teacher.

      Our former priest always was saying, "Live simply, so others can simply live." There is a world of truth in that.

      I hope that you are off to a great start for your week!

  5. Without a doubt, one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. One of my favourite Willy Loman performances was Dustin Hoffman in the made-for-TV movie version done maybe 20 years ago. It's a heartbreaker of a play alright.

    1. Hi Debra! I'll have to see if I can track down that made-for-TV movie. I think Dustin Hoffman is an amazing actor! I have never been able to forget this play! Have a great week!

  6. An absolute classic! How wonderful that you got tickets to this show. It's a very profound story. I studied this play in high school...many, many moons ago :)

    Times are tough all around. I'm not sure what's in store for the next generation.

    1. Hi Martha! I was delighted to get the tickets. And I was thrilled to see Terry almost spellbound with the production. I do worry about the next generation, but they are also our hope ~ and I've met so many amazing young people. I try to focus on what I can have an impact on. But I find myself yelling at the TV a lot ~ especially as I observe the shenanigans going on in Washington today, and I think about all the regular people who are going to be hurt by the political battles. Arrggghhhh! You take care!!!!!

  7. I LOVE theater in the round. In fact, speaking of which, it's my birthday this weekend and I haven't been to a show in a long time. That's what I should ask for. Thanks!

    1. Hey Crystal! Theatre is the best! There is nothing like live theatre. Go to a show, and have a wonderful birthday!

  8. Nice and Great Post!

  9. I wish if i see this theater could be glad for me. Nice at all. academic writing service


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