Paragon puts a twist on Miller's `Salesman'

THEATER

Director Feinstein uses overlapping dialogue effectively

April 10, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

By now, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is so familiar, it can be tough to breathe new life into it - especially for a fledgling community theater. But that's what veteran local director Barry Feinstein has attempted, and mostly achieved, at Paragon Theatre.

Feinstein's primary tool is speed. But there's more to his use of overlapping dialogue and simultaneous action than an effort to fast-forward through Miller's script.

When weary salesman Willy Loman and his wife Linda talk over each other, they do so because they've said the same things so often, they're no longer listening. And when characters from the past and present converge on stage - or in the aisles - it's because Willy's mind has muddled the time frames of his life. Granted, the seeds of this approach are in Miller's text, but Feinstein accentuates them.

For example, he makes no attempt to differentiate the play's various locales. Instead, when Willy shares a hotel room with another woman, the scene clearly takes place in his sons' bedroom. Similarly, when these grown sons take their father to dinner, only to abandon him, the restaurant is actually the Loman living room. In this way, Feinstein reinforces the fact that everything Willy and his sons do has a direct impact on their home life. They can neither escape their home, nor can they avoid bringing everything back to roost there.

It's a sophisticated interpretation for a young, small theater, and the acting isn't always up to it. As Willy, Herman Kemper has no trouble registering defeat, but he does an injustice to Miller's writing by peppering it with the repeated phrase, "you know." Greg Kemper (Herman's real-life son) and Joseph Riley are strong as Willy's sons, but ML Grout's Linda is hampered by an odd combination of overly refined speech and a tendency to let the character's temper overtake her compassion.

Surely, it's a measure of success that even when the results fall short, the attempt remains a worthy and interesting one.

Show times at Paragon, 9 W. 25th St., are 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 410-467-1966.

Hippodrome

You may never appear on the Hippodrome stage, but you can get your name immortalized on one of the renovated theater's seats thanks to a new "adopt-a-seat" campaign. Adoptions cost $2,000 for orchestra seats, $1,500 for front balcony seats and $1,000 for other balcony seats. The Hippodrome Foundation is hoping the program will raise more than $1 million of the $62.5 million cost of refurbishing the 2,250-seat theater.

For more information, call 410-625-4230, Ext. 615.

W.Va. festival

The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., has selected four shows for its summer 2003 season. Highlights of the festival, scheduled for July 11-Aug. 3, include a chamber musical and a world premiere by acclaimed returning playwright Lee Blessing. "I don't think there's ever been a better time to immerse ourselves in contemporary theater. For me, these four playwrights are investigating, questioning and criticizing our mass culture," said producing director Ed Herendeen.

The plays, which will be performed in rotating repertory, are: Whores, by Blessing, which takes place in the mind of a former general from a Central American country where three nuns and a Catholic layworker were murdered; Wilder, by Erin Cressida Wilson (also a premiere) with a score written and performed by Jack Herrick and Mike Craver of the Red Clay Ramblers, a chamber musical about a boy going through puberty in a Depression-era bordello; Bright Ideas, by Eric Coble, about a couple who will stop at nothing to get their perfect toddler into the perfect pre-school; and The Last Schwartz, by Deborah Zoe Laufer, in which secrets emerge when a family gathers for the one-year anniversary of the patriarch's death.

Subscriptions to the four-play season cost $80 and $90 and are on sale now. Single tickets cost $25 and $30. For more information call 888-999-CATF or visit www.catf.org.

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