Sunday, July 31, 2016

Death of a Salesman. By Arthur Miller. Vokes Players. Wayland, Mass. Directed by John Barrett

 "I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Death of A Salesman. By Arthur Miller. Vokes Players. Wayland, Mass. Directed by John Barrett

Willy Loman , the tragic hero in Arthur Millers “ Death of a Salesman” is captured by this quote from his wife Linda. Loman, a long-in-the-tooth salesman whose shoe shine has lost its luster, and has a handshake that went firm to limp, may have not amounted to hill of a beans in the play, but he remains a powerful symbol of lives of quiet and in this case not so quiet desperation. He is an icon of the nightmare that hides behind the sizzle but no steak billboard of the American Dream. Loman makes his sales pitch to mocking laughter, to rolling eyes, as he completes the last half of the roller coaster ride to oblivion.

Robert Zawistowski, who plays Loman like a clinically depressed Falstaff, has mastered the body language, the stoop, the perpetual sweat on the brow, the speech, of a defeated man.

This play is directed by John Barrett and is true to the original. I have seen television and film adaptions with Lee J. Cobb, and Dustin Hoffman, that were marvelously produced. I have never seen the play on stage. But—the stage has an intimacy—the feel of the press of the flesh, the texture that can't be captured in another medium.

Biff, the wayward son of Loman is expertly played by Bill Stambaugh. Stambaugh interprets the character as a tightly coiled—powder keg of a man, stunted to a degree by his father and his own limitations. Deanna Swan, who plays Linda, Willy's wife, is the definition of long suffering. Her smile seems like a brittle pop-- a thin scrim to the unfolding tragedy.

The last scene in the play, at Loman's funeral, was particularly striking. The lighting designer Dan Clawson ( and I always noticed lighting because my brother Donald Holder is a Tony Award -winning lighting designer), has affected a melancholy line up of silhouettes over Willy's grave-- a somber Greek Chorus that left a chill down my spine.

The Vokes Players, in this production, have contributed to a night of theatre that I will long remember.

*** Doug Holder is the arts/editor of The Somerville Times, and teaches writing at Endicott College and Bunker Hill Community College.


  1. Dan's one of a long line of dedicated Clawson contributors to that little theater, Doug. He's a pro who's lit exhibitions as far away as Melbourne, Australia -- the largest casino on that continent. He might make an interesting interview. If his buddy, Steve McGonagle, designed the set, Barrett lured two of the best in our region. They grew up together in Wayland, a town that produces a lot of talent, including Michelle Obama's speechwriter.

  2. Nice review Doug...I like the "clinically depressed Falstaff"...attention must be Doug Holder!