“Death of a Salesman” at Arts West

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Delusion as a way of life—that’s much of what this brilliant Arthur Miller play is about. And brilliant it is, especially as presented in this production.

No fancy staging here. Instead Director Matthew Wright and Scenic Designer Christopher Mumaw have given us a bare-bones set that simply defines interior spaces. For this production all attention must be directed to the actors and the words. We expect the words to be powerful, after all the play won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous Tony’s when it debuted in 1949. So it’s a delight to see that this cast can deliver those words with such passion.

This is one of the best ensembles on Seattle stages in recent years. David Pichette as Willy Loman, the aging traveling salesman brings passion, nuance, false gaiety, and despair to his portrayal of a man who has thrown his whole life away on a piddling job and is now about to be thrown away himself.

His reality is replete with delusions, denials. To him happiness equals wealth and popularity. Ah, isn’t that the American dream? Perhaps denial is the only strategy for one who faces failure (however it’s defined) especially when one is surrounded by success.

Willy has raised his son Biff to buy into his delusion. No matter what Biff wants in life, he’s tethered to the line Willie has fed him. Drew Highlands’ Biff is enthusiastic but not bright enough to free himself from Willy’s fantasies until it’s almost too late. Watching his demise is heartbreaking.

And then there’s Happy (Kyle Anton Johnson). Oh yes Willie has two sons, but despite playing the acolyte, Happy is never the anointed one, though he does accept the family delusions.

Eleanor Mosely as Linda, the mother of this sad family is another standout actor. Her adoration and support is unending and tragic. Because she so loves Willie, she accepts his fantasies, reinforces them, and refuses to move beyond them. Her response to his death is heartrending.

At his grave she says, “Forgive me, my dear, I can’t cry.” You’re a stronger theatregoer than I if this production of this play doesn’t move you to tears. A must see!

Through May 29, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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