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'Death of a Saleman' provides rare opportunity to see great American classic

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Death of a Salesman opened at the Lab Theater of Florida last weekend. "It's a rare opportunity to see a great American classic and see it beautifully performed," notes Louise Wigglesworth, who directs the show.

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"The play's been on my bucket list for a long time," Wigglesworth reflected when asked what attracted her to the production. "I like the idea of Arthur Miller celebrating the common man. Holding up his hopes and dreams and struggles, even when he has the wrong dreams."

Those dreams, to be sure, are materialistic. Through Willy Loman, Arthur Miller depicts a culture in which money equates with success which, in turn, serves as the yardstick by which all of us measure a person's value. But it's not just his or her value to family, friends and society at large. It's how each of us determines our own self-worth.

Under the yoke of that conundrum, Willy Loman is prepared to do whatever is necessary to come out on top, even romancing a secretary and bribing her with nylon stockings to get past her desk and into her boss's office. Moral values and personal integrity are inconveniences in Loman's competitive business model. Only success, as measured in money, possesses import and value, with disastrous results.

To judge whether these insights are still relevant today one need look no further than to Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong or the legion of professional athletes willing to take performance enhancing drugs in order to further their on-field success, thereby securing mega-salaries and astronomical off-field endorsements and a claim to a place in their respective Halls of Fame. But doesn't the money = success = perceived self-worth equation also explain why a handful of powerful Wall Street financiers were (are still?) willing to wreck their own companies and the U.S. economy in the quest for unprecedented bonuses and self -aggrandizement?

But Wigglesworth understands that there is so much more to Death of a Salesman.

"The play also celebrates Linda's love of her husband, even though she is painfully aware of each of his shortcomings," she points out. "And [Willy's] struggle with [his son] Biff to understand who he is - that he's more comfortable in nature raising livestock than working in a city as a salesman - speaks for people having the courage to refuse to allow someone else to impose their life on him."

Part of Arthur Miller's genius inheres, as well, in his adroit use of irony to make his point. "[Younger son] Happy has lived in the shadow of who his father thinks Biff is," note Wigglesworth. "Happy's dream is more of his father's dream than his own. In the end, he finds the determination to take over the family. He finds his purpose."

It is because Death of a Salesman operates on so many individual and interrelated levels that the show receives raves and accolades each time it is revived in New York and other venues. It is also why Southwest Florida residents and visitors should planning on seeing this production during its run at the Laboratory Theater of Florida. The show's remaining performances are on January 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 26, 30 and 31, with its final performance taking place on February 1.

Tickets are $12 for students, $18.50 for seniors and military on Thursdays, and $22 for adults. They are available for purchase at the door or online at laboratorytheaterflorida.com. There will be an audience talk-back after the Sunday, January 26 performance. All guests are welcome to participate.

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