By: Ronnie Ruff
Death Of A Salesman
Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman is often called the first great American tragedy and is as compelling today as it was fifty years ago. It is the next production to be mounted by Keegan in a season that started with three Tennessee Williams plays. Helen Hayes nominated director Dorothy Neumann creates a somber somewhat chilling characterization of the relationship between an aging father and a son that is haunted by past failures and his father’s marital infidelity. Full of anguish, acrimony and rankling, the production struggles through a less than satisfying first act before a second act where the play becomes more forceful and as such far more interesting.
Set designer Stefan Gibson’s vision of the Loman home consists of a small kitchen and bedroom furnished with dark slate colored furniture and appliances including an off brand, belt eating refrigerator that Willy regrets buying. Two small single beds on an upper level constitute the bedroom where his sons Biff and Happy are staying. Small tables and chairs are moved into the left and right sides of the stage for scenes that take place in a company office and a chop house where his sons take Willy for dinner in the play’s second act. Costumes and sound design, both Keegan strengths did not disappoint – in fact I was very drawn into the Washington Saxophone Quartet recordings used as the score for the production.
Fine talent abounds in Keegan’s cast lead by local favorites Brian Hemmingsen and Charlotte Akin as Willy Loman and his wife who struggle day to day and week to week in order to pay the bills. Hemmingsen who is well known in DC theatre creates a powerful but aging Loman who at times loses track of who or where he is. His performance is effecting but a bit over reaching early in the show. Ms Akin who recently appeared locally in Top Girls with Fountainhead Theatre and The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow at Studio’s Secondstage is Willy’s wife and greatest fan — her second act performance is clearly the best of the show. Keegan Artistic Director Mark Rhea who portrays Biff does far better as a down on his luck adult son than when he is rendering his image of Biff as a teenage football star. Troubled and depressed, Biff is unable to do what is necessary to please his father. Flash back sequences have Biff characterized as cartoonish, almost as if he were really Wally Cleever from Leave It To Beaver. Biff’s brother played by an excellent Mike Innocenti is able to capture the part without the same distractions. Susan Marie Rhea as Willie’s paramour and David Jourdan as his next door neighbor deliver commendable performances especially Jourdan who is thoroughly convincing and one of the show’s standouts.
Keegan’s season has been a delightful collection of classic Americana. Death of a Salesman pleases far more than it disappoints and Keegan stands strong as one of DC’s most respected theatre companies.