It is a brave and committed company that tackles Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (twice in three years no less!). A play of boundless hope and abject disappointment, the emotional undulations of this play pose a challenge for even the most seasoned actors. Soulpepper eagerly takes-up Miller’s gauntlet. They are rewarded with a truly fantastic show.
Miller’s Death of a Salesman introduces Willy Loman, a salesman who fuels his home and the spirits of his two sons with personality. For Willy, personality is the answer to all life’s challenges and the key to all its successes. Grounded only by the loving and supportive touch of Willy’s wife, Linda, this play thrives off the steam of possibility. At the beginning, Willy’s two sons, Biff, the former football star, and Happy, the philandering junior assistant, have come home. Confined under one roof, it’s instantly clear that no member of this family can realize their own expectations or the expectations their family holds for them. At once depressed by their inability to succeed and emboldened by the possibilities "personality" offers, the men of this house live with the fantastical impression that success is only one deal, one meeting, one handshake away.
Miller writes such huge, deliciously complicated characters. With such great roles for ambitious actors, this play can easily become a mere collection of great performances. Soulpepper’s remarkably successful ensemble approach to the script is sensational. Together, this cast draws out the rich themes of Miller’s script – the tension between urban and rural space; the promise of the American dream and the resignation when it cannot be realized; the desire to be honourable while afflicted by crippling character flaws.
Individual performances contribute beautifully to this whole. Mike Ross as Happy, Joseph Zeigler as Willy and Nancy Palk as Linda are incredible. All three seem to love the script, to love their characters and to love having the chance to stand in this show. This sentiment impregnates this play and rears this show as a child of the Company. Together, these actors and this cast set a pace for the performance that’s amazing. Such a swift tempo means that Soulpepper had to individually select which moments they wanted to highlight – which moments to make the signatures of this show. With such a complement of poignant emotional vignettes naturally resident in this script, that is no easy feat. Soulpepper’s smart approach to this script is not only refreshing, it’s hugely successful. The show is absolutely riveting.
Creating space for all these huge personalities, for this timeless script, is a daring task. Lorenzo Savoini, as Set Designer and Bonnie Beecher, as Lighting Designer have created a home for Miller’s classic. Their noteworthy use of lighting screens that alternate between a New York City apartment building and a canopy of trees help distinguish Willy’s reality from his reflections and create space for both the tangible and the ethereal.
It’s notable that I’m writing this review having just seen a performance of this show in New York, where Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy. I’m proud to say that these two performances could sit at the same table and be in good company. Soulpepper’s a company of true professionals who deliver on a scale worthy of international acclaim.
In the playbill for this show, Soulpepper talks about having the privilege to mount this play. Soulpepper’s performance of this classic script is also a privilege for the audience.
Soulpepper's Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman runs from September 10th to October 6th 2012
Run time: One Act; approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes (one 20 minute intermission).
Tickets available online at:
Young Centre for the Performing Arts
55 Mill Street, Building 49
Toronto, ON M5A 3C4
Written by Jenn Hood
Jenn Hood loves theatre. She has acted in shows including Ghosts (Henrick Ibsen), Coriolanus (William Shakespeare), Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare), All in the Timing (David Ives) and Death (Woody Allen). As a long-time theatre reviewer for Spotlight, Jenn is thrilled to be a part of the dynamic Toronto theatre scene. Recently she has begun writing joint reviews with her father, Richard Hood, which often require (in the best way) a large glass of wine.