Theater Review: A Warhorse Returns To Trinity, In Style

Oct 11, 2017

Trinity Rep is opening its season with Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” the powerful drama concerning the downside of the American Dream. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale has the review.

If you are someone who really loves live theater the announcement that your favorite company will do a renowned play, one that’s decades old, been done many times, may give you a little gulp in your throat. There are many ways to run down a great play.

After all, the work itself is 2 hours 45 minutes, an ungainly length today where many a new play is one act and 90 minutes. Then, possibly, the classic may have lost its power, its one-time drive. Or the theater will go overboard, turning a great play into a re-done goofy farce.

Well, have no fears. At Trinity, “Death of a Salesmen” remains, a tear-bringing powerhouse, an eye-opening, chilling and insightful look at the American Nightmare, if you will. The story of the life and death of Willy Loman, the salesman who’s time has ended with the shattered dream of a man used, and then thrown aside remains as strong as ever.

Director Brian McEleney has taken Miller’s 1949 work and kept all it’s force, it’s love , it’s hate, it’s needs and loses. Sure, this “Salesman” is filled with modern-day theatrical possibility. Done in the refurbished downstairs Dowling Theatre it favors such changes as simple medal posts marking the bedroom of the Loman sons. This becomes a place for dynamic climbs, and falls.

Actors use five doors to slash and burn into and out of the theater in a manner that seems not a theatrical trick but another way of displaying the Loman family’s ill-fated drive, it’s lost efforts, it’s ever failing attempts.

The cast is memorable, filed with energy even as they are displaying the loss of the Lomans. Trinity’s veteran Stephen Berenson digs deep into Willy. He ranges from the incredible beliefs of the man to his great losses. He lets you know that Willy was always a loser and then enters with the argument that America the Powerful is all to happy to award the winner, and kick the losers aside. American the Indifferent is what Berenson brings us with great depth, great feeling.

As Linda, Willy’s ever-trying wife, Phyllis Kay is extraordinarily insightful. She catches every moment of the Loman debacle, and gives us a wonderful look of a woman who never stops trying to take the family down the winner’s road.

As the boys, Matt Lytle and Billy Hutto, both third -year students in the Brown/Trinity MFA program, bring great drive to the roles of Willy’s sons. They are passionate, driven by the family’s difficulties. And, most of all, they find the essence of the Loman’s break down. The boys follow the father to probable equal failure.

And let me say that this “Salesman” also has lots of comedy. There’s fun amid the destruction, which only makes the heartbreak more heart touching.

You’ll remember that one of the never forgotten lines in this All-American play is that while Willy Loman is not one of the finest charters that ever lived, he is a human being and a terrible thing has happened to him. So, Arthur Miller tells us “…attention must be paid.”

At Trinity, that hope, that need, has been achieved with humanity and insight. Don’t miss “Death of a Salesman” one more time.

“Death of a Salesman” continues at Trinity Rep through November 26th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.