Actors make Colonial's `Death of a Salesman' a success

Review

May 05, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman is not an easy play to stage in-the-round, with all the rooms in the Loman household, Willy's old office, plus a restaurant and hotel, and action overlapping on these sets.

But the Colonial Players' production of the drama, which opened last weekend, works under Lee Dorsey's direction and is helped by an ensemble of skilled actors headed by Ken Sabel as Willy.

As he shuffles onto the stage, Sabel sighs, creating an instant portrait of despair.

Sabel conveys such exhaustion and defeat that we are pulled into his struggle to hold onto his foolish ideals of success through his two sons.

Sabel's protagonist is frightening in his explosive anger, shouting at his fate and at his sons' missed opportunities. Yet he also conveys a tenderness for his wife, Linda, along with a profound guilt toward her that often turns to rage.

Janet Berry as the devoted housewife creates a portrait of a strong woman who has held her family together despite all odds.

Berry's Linda is aware of Willy's mental decline and their precarious financial state, but her love and respect for her husband mitigate reality.

Near the end of the first act, Berry delivers a riveting, passionate speech, accusing her sons of being ungrateful for their father's sacrifices.

Ben Carr gives a fully dimensional portrait of Biff that vacillates between fear at his father's mental decline, loathing for Willy's clinging to the attainability of American dream by his sons and contempt for his womanizing and unfaithfulness to Linda.

Most poignantly, Biff finally advises his father to "take that phony dream and burn it before something happens."

Equally multifaceted Richard McGraw's energetic portrayal of Happy reveals a son who has spent a lifetime trying to carry out his father's dream while becoming increasingly defeated by it.

When McGraw's Happy seeks his parents' attention by telling them as a youth that he has lost weight and assuring them as a 30-year-old man that he will marry soon, his need to please them is palpable. We understand his pain as his mother accuses him of being a "philandering bum," which he often is.

Edd Miller, in the pivotal role of Willy's only true friend, Charley, delivers a nuanced performance, revealing kindness one moment and frustration the next.

Supporting roles are well-played by David Standish as Charley's successful son, Bernard; Marky Regensburg in a platinum wig as the out-of-town buyer who provides warmth to Willy on his business trips; Danny Brooks as Willy's successful brother, Ben; Vincent van Joolen as Willy's youthful employer who finally fires him; Fred Taylor as Stanley the waiter; Jessica Maiuzzo as Happy's date, Miss Forsythe; and Elizabeth Enkiri as her friend and Biff's date, Letta.

Everything in Barry Christy's set design and props - down to the dated kitchen appliances and Lucky Strikes cigarette pack - spells authenticity of the struggling poor in 1940s New York.

Dorsey wisely puts some scenes off-stage, with Biff and Happy's bedroom sandwiched between audience sections. It seemed appropriate architecturally and dramatically.

Lighting designers Jeannie Beall and Harvey Hack create Willy's space as he drifts from his shaded current gloom back into brightly lit happier times of his sons' youth.

Anyone older than age 50 has known a few Willy Lomans who have pursued the American dream but failed to achieve it. We can't help but remember their struggles when Willy's suicide doesn't leave his family any better off.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. on some Sundays through May 27 at 108 East St., Annapolis. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for students and senior citizens. Reservations: 410-268- 7373.

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