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May 22, 2012 > Theatre Review: Death of a Salesman

Theatre Review: Death of a Salesman

By Jessica Noel Flohr
Photos By Dan Sparks

The American Dream has become elusive. Upward mobility is limited and global population is rising. These are all things Willy Loman, the protagonist in Death of a Salesman, knows intimately. It's surprising how much 1940's New England life relates to the struggling middle class of today.

Willy Loman is everyman. The main character in Arthur Miller's 1949 play is a sixty-year-old traveling salesman who has given his life in service to his company and, in turn, been absent from those for whom he was providing. Willy is tired - tired of struggling, tired of disappointment, tired of life. He is warring with suicidal thoughts and demons. His golden boy, oldest son Biff, has failed him. Willy had high hopes for Biff and believed he would become a wealthy, successful football star; women falling at his feet. Instead, Biff flunked high school math, gave up on life, and became a wanderer and petty thief. Willy is left with unfulfilled hopes and no legacy to pass on to his flailing adult sons.

Broadway West Theatre Company, located above Bay Street Coffee, will be showing this award winning production now through June 16th. Tom Shamrell is a modest director. When asked by an audience member to introduce himself on opening night, Shamrell said, "I'm just the director, but that only matters if you hate the play. If you love it, thank the actors!" The audience did, indeed, thank the actors. The performance was compelling and very moving. Ross Arden Harkness was the perfect embodiment of Willy Loman, drawing the audience in to his inner turmoil. Sheila Ellam brought to life the grief and frustration Willy's wife, Linda, experienced as a go-between for her sons and their father.

The set is sparse but highly functional and well utilized. Lighting was especially effective in this production, highlighting Willy's flashbacks to the golden days of his career and family life. Costuming further separates truth from fiction as Willy's mind fades. Two young boys come on stage with high energy, passing a football back and forth and rallying around their hero dad. Biff's emotional eruptions grip the audience as he battles between carrying his father's secrets and failing to live up to his expectations. Viewers become emotionally invested in the life of this aging family.

Broadway West is a great theatre company in their 16th season and going strong. The intimate theater environment is ideal for date night or a solo outing. There are no bad seats in the house! All audience members are right in front of the action. Snacks and wine are available for a small donation, and, for those with larger appetites, there's always Bay Street Coffee just downstairs. Come and see this timeless production and find out what Willy Loman has to say to the people of today.

Death of a Salesman
Thru June 16
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
1 p.m. Sundays, May 27, June 3, and June 10
Broadway West Theatre Company
4000-B Bay Street, Fremont
(510) 683-9218
Tickets: $10 to $23

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