Review: Hapgood Theatre's 'Salesman' raw and emotional
By Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times
Article Last Updated: 10/10/2008 11:46:39 AM PDT
Antioch's Hapgood Theatre Company roars into its second season with an achingly raw and brutally edgy production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
The small professional company starts the show with a throbbing intensity and ratchets up the tension level from there to the very end of this classic American tragedy.At the start, when Willy Loman (Jack Stauffer), the beleaguered 60-year-old traveling salesman, tiredly totes his sample cases across the stage, there is no doubt that this road warrior is completely worn out. And once he speaks to wife Linda (Adrienne Krug), it's clear that the man is simply clinging to life with his few remaining nerve endings and last shards of pride.
He speaks in fits and starts, stammering as he tells Linda he was unable to make a planned sales trip to his New England territory from their home in New York. He couldn't do it, and his disturbed state forced him to drive home at 10 mph with frequent long breaks.
Stauffer and director Josy Miller, founder and artistic director of the company, show no mercy to Willy — he is and has always been an overbearing jerk, whose demands for perfection and prowess, despite everything, have ruined his sons Biff (Matthew Purdon) and Happy (Elias Escobedo). The boys' idolatry of their seemingly perfect dad went away a long time ago. Respect has turned to fear and hatred, yet they remain reluctant to pull themselves out from beneath Willy's now-weak thumb.
In "Salesman," the only true believer is Linda, a fascinating character who, in many ways, makes Willy's behavior possible.
The script drifts from the present to Willy's version of the past, viewed by the audience in a series of the old salesman's daydreams, fantasies and even moments of truth that put together a shattering portrait of one family's life spent just missing the American Dream.
The death of this salesman has been a tragic lifelong process that is at once horribly sad and impossible to resist. It's a tale well told in a wonderfully fresh revival that has managed to take what remains a piece very much of its time, the late 1940s, yet has a resonance that gives it a frighteningly contemporary feel. Hapgood's "Salesman" is told in such a way that you walk from the theater wondering how many of us are genetically patterned to follow in Willy's tragic footsteps.
Director Miller has done a terrific job telling the story, flawlessly traveling back and forth in time through many locations, using some excellent staging and taking every advantage of Jason Miller's clever set.
The acting is first-rate as well. The production attracted a remarkably talented array of actors, particularly Stauffer and Krug, who create characters deliciously flawed and human. Purdon and Escobedo are excellent in the brother roles, revealing the characters' own shortcomings in nuanced performances.