Arthur Miller's immortal "Death of a Salesman" has been given hallowed status by critics for decades. Indeed, it has found itself parked at the top of nearly every list for best American drama joining other classics by Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Tony Kushner. So, when the new season for Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré was announced a year ago and "Death of a Salesman" was named as one of its key three dramas, there was quite a bit of interest generated as to how they might pull it off and who would fill the critical roles of Willy Loman, his wife Linda and sons Biff and Happy.
George Sanchez was given the nod in the titular role of Willy Loman by director Amy Holtcamp. Sanchez, who has had a distinguished career in local theatre, seemed a good choice. He certainly is a seasoned actor and he is appropriately aged to carry off the role. Yet, when Sanchez took his character to the stage, it came across in fits and stops. The play seemed to sputter and the first act plodded along, dreary in its direction. There is no doubt that Willy Loman is depressed at the way his life is turning out, but much of the spark that drives a salesman - the pursuit of the sale and a closed deal - were absent from his personna.
As the tortured traveling salesman, whose life is unraveling, Sanchez struggled to achieve the right balance in playing his character and generated little empathy between him and the audience.
Mary Pauley, as his wife, was a bright spot, especially in the first act, but there appeared a slight disconnect from his character to hers. Meanwhile, Garrett Prejean as Biff and Chris Marroy as Happy, were the most interesting and believable of all the characters on stage. Prejean, in particular, delivered a spectacular performance as the troubled son, who loses his way in life after discovering the salesman father he worships has feet of clay.
While Ron Gural is a bit stiff in his role as Willy's brother, Sam Dudley found a way to break through his role as did Casey Groves and his real life wife Rachel Whitman Groves in their smaller parts.
“Death of a Salesman” is intended to be a downer, but it also is supposed to speak to the human condition and the loss of intimacy between husband and wife, a lack of trust between father and son, and the testing of affection between brothers. So much of the play sits squarely on the shoulders of the world weary salesman that there is a delicate balance demanded between who he is and who he purports to be. He is desperate, yes. But he is a victim of his own circumstances - a man whose final act must be considered against the backdrop of his multi-layered and flawed character. Much of this play spiraled downward in such a way as to miss several of the points Miller had intended to color and complete his character.
It finishes its run this weekend.