Sunday, January 27, 2013

KC Repertory "Death of a Salesman" review by kellyluck

The Epic, The Tragedy, and the Man on the Street
Rating: 5

Death of a Salesman
Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Tragedy is the art of the third act. Every tragedy, no
matter its setting or the players involved, is the
final chapter of a tale that stretches long before. We
as the audience are brought to bear witness as the
wheels that were set in motion years, even generations
ago reach their final point. We are neither judge nor
jury, these things being out of our hands. But the
thing must be seen, and so we come and we watch again
as the protagonist's dreams fall out of his grasp, the
same mistakes are repeated over and over, and always
the same shattering consequences.

Take, for example, the case of Willy Loman (Gary Neal
Johnson). Steeped all his life in the American Dream,
he finds himself at the end of all things with the
Dream unraveling and just beginning slowly, fitfully,
to wake up. This is a man who has it all--nice job,
nice house, a loving wife (Merle Moores) and two all-
American boys (Kyle Hatley and Rusty Sneary as Happy
and Biff, respectively). But as we follow him through
the last day of his life, the facades fall away one
after another, until we are left with a man so broken
that destroying himself is the only way he has of
asserting control over his existence at all.

Arthur Miller's Loman does for classical tragedy what
Joyce's Leopold Bloom did for the epic: plucked it down
from the pantheon of stars and dropped it right next to
us on the bus. In the Kansas City Rep's production, Mr.
Johnson gives us everyman as fallen hero, a man who has
spent his life believing a very specific narrative idea
of it and fighting like hell against the world that
asserts itself slowly, insidiously against him. He is
flawed, deeply flawed, but it is this that pulls us
into his skin, so that his wounds become ours. This is
uncomfortable theatre: one finds each blow pounding
home just as much as it did in 1949, when Miller first
dropped this tale square into the midst of the postwar
suburban nirvana.

In his remarks before the show, Artistic Director Eric
Rosen noted that the Kansas City area is gifted with
some extraordinary ensemble talent, and that this
production was part of a concentrated effort to have at
least one piece every season to let our top-tier talent
shine. Certainly it is a treat for those have had the
pleasure of seeing these performers before: besides the
aforenoted players, we have Kip Niven as Willy's angel-
in-white older brother and role model Ben, and Mark
Robbins turning in an excellent performance as the
Lomans' neighbor, Charlie. The staging and other
technical aspects were up to the usual high standard
one has come to expect from the Rep, the Loman house a
shining white promised land til you get up close and
see the stark and chipped, fading paint.

It is sometimes easy to dismiss older "workhorse" plays
as done to death, performed over and over until they
numb in the mind. But some do not fall prey to this,
retaining their impact time after time. Early in the
first act, Mrs Loman delivers what may be the chief
manifesto of the play: "I don't say he's a great man.
Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was
never in the paper. He's not the finest character that
ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible
thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid.
He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old
dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid..." In
the KC Rep's capable hands, Arthur Miller's tragic hero
reflects himself back into us, and as we file silently
into the night, we find ourselves listening, listening
for the wheels of fate slowly turning their way to our
final chapters.

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