Death of a Salesman, by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Death of a Salesman – Written by Arthur Miller; Directed by Spiro Veloudos; Scenic Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley; Presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston at 140 Clarendon St., Boston through March 15th.

A life lived for appearances is always an empty one, and the theme that
happiness is really an inside job is just as true today as it was in 1949 when
‘Death of a Salesman’ was first performed. The Lyric Stage has produced an
absorbing and powerful version of this American classic with an outstanding
cast delivering on what many consider one of American Theater’s greatest works.
Willy Loman, the play’s central character, believes in the post-war (WWII)
version of the American Dream, but his version of that dream consists mostly of
the attainment of material stuff without any of the hard work or honorable behavior
that theoretically goes with it.

It begins with his chosen profession – “selling” – and his approach
to it. He constantly refers to himself or others as being
“well-liked” by others as if it were something to obsessively strive
for as an end to itself, rather than 
doing things that make people like you for being good, decent, honest
and hard-working – all but the last of which Willy falls woefully short of
being. Deep down Willy knows that not only is he not “well-liked” by
others, he believes the world openly laughs at him, something that he
acknowledges openly when under duress. So he constructs his life using a
distorted set of metrics and passes those beliefs onto his children, and as a
result achieves some pretty disturbing outcomes for him and his family.

This is beautifully exemplified in a scene when his son Biff’s egghead
friend Bernard tells the boy  that he has
to study his math test or he’ll flunk and be unable to attend college on his
athletic scholarship. Willy then gives his sons one of his many wrong-headed
lessons, openly mocking Bernard. “Bernard can get the best marks in
school, you understand, but when he gets out in the business world, you are
going to be five times ahead of him,” he tells the boys. “That’s why
I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes
an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is
the man who gets ahead.”

And the sad part is that he’s right, at least if you only keep score by
money and material stuff, which our culture frequently tells us is the only
thing that counts – and this were even more true in the post war era through
the sixties, where the word “success” referred only to the material
kind. Willy is a failure in the most human of ways – a man who missed out on
every important lesson on how to be happy with himself – and Ken Baltin’s Loman
is a painful joy to watch. When we first meet Willy, he is returning from a
failed road trip where he has lost the ability to drive his car safely. He is
old and mildly demented for a sixty year old, and he has been talking to
himself and drifting in and out of reality. He holds conversations with people
who aren’t there – in particular his successful (but deceased) older brother
Ben (Will McGarrahan) who serves as his inspiration (but not his role model)
because he became wealthy by discovering diamonds in Africa. “I walked
into the jungle when I was 17 and came out at 21 a rich man,” he
constantly reminds Willy. Again, wealth attained without hard work (or ethics)
is the best kind – as the distorted American Dream that plays out today in the
form of the big money lotteries tells us.

Willy passes these distorted views onto his sons Biff (Kelby T. Akin) and
Happy (
Joseph Marrella), and the results are not
pretty. Biff is profoundly damaged by Willy’s behavior, especially a single
incident that occurred in Boston that Willy tries unsuccessfully to suppress
throughout the play. His son Happy is a serial womanizer, but his problems run
much deeper than that, although the depth of his obsession is
revealed in one painful scene. There is enormous tension in the house between
the boys and Dad, and his adoring wife Linda (the terrific Paula Plum) plays
referee and protector to her suicidal husband.

This is a very strong and well-staged production, and the cast is superb.
If you have not seen this timeless play and love theater (I had not seen any
productions and read the play in high school) you owe it to yourself to see
this terrific show. For more info, go to:


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