Letter to the editor: Death of a Salesman has lessons for us today
By: Paul Deaner, executive director of the Lake Superior Community Theatre, Lake County News Chronicle
Lake County citizens and visitors are invited to attend an historic Lake Superior Community Theatre event this coming April in Silver Bay: the first-ever performance on the north shore (beyond Duluth) of the American play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. The 1949 multi award winning classic tragedy will feature a cast of 17 local actors
The LSCT production has been in the making for three years since early planning in 2010 and is now fully underway with rehearsals and structurally completed set awaiting finishing touches. The set, indeed, will be a somewhat historic recreation of the original Jo Mielziner design which is more than backdrop; it becomes the literature with its transparency and lighting techniques of the see-through wallpapered walls, mirroring the dreamlike quality of the play.
Simply put, the play is about the last 24 hours of 63 year-old New York City travelling salesman Willy Loman. The play opens with his abrupt return to his Brooklyn Heights home following an aborted sales trip. He is greeted by his wife and two sons, now in their 30’s. Willy’s mental state is deteriorating and thoughts of suicide are creeping in. His past memories or fantasies thereof are increasingly haunting him and the present day consequences of his past actions are catching up to him. His present and past are lived out on the stage before your eyes with the Lomen house as the constant backdrop, the foundation, the metaphor for family, a hands-on American Dream.
But the complexities run much deeper. The play is about you and me, Americans, the family, the “American Dream,” whatever that means, and the dream of living that dream within the capitalist , materialistic, Madison Avenue-driven culture.
Playwright Arthur Miller grew up during The Great Depression and saw his fairly well-to-do family’s garment business decimated, forcing the family to move to more humble digs. His early American Dream and capitalistic culture failed miserably. Certainly this influences the play. Willy is symbolic of one loosing himself, his spirituality, his true purpose in life, his family and his life in a perverted pursuit of a his version of the American Dream. Since 2008 fortunes have been lost, homes have been lost, jobs have been lost, families have been impacted in profound ways. How is your American Dream? Where, what is your spiritual center? Ironically, Miller’s many plays, critical of social and political American culture made him wealthy, a benefactor of capitalism, not wanting for material possessions.
Why drama? Why this, a tragedy? Why not a traditional light-hearted, silly musical?
Because now and then it is healthy to reexamine, confront serious issues in our lives through theatre. I believe it makes us better, more spiritually deep humans. Admittedly, it will be great entertainment as well, watching the power of the lead character permeate the cast, set and auditorium.
Paul Deaner is the Executive Director of the Lake Superior Community Theatre and director of Death of a Salesman.