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Mike Nichols Directs Philip Seymour Hoffman in Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" at Ethel Barrymore Theatre
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Mike Nichols Directs Philip Seymour Hoffman in Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" at Ethel Barrymore Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Scott Rudin, Stuart Thompson
et al.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield

Arthur Miller’s
(Arthur Miller Bio)

Death of a Salesman
(Death of a Salesman Website)

Directed by Mike Nichols

Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

With: Finn Wittrock, Fran Kranz, Remy Auberjonois,
Glenn Fleshler, Stephanie Janssen, Brad Koed, Kathleen McNenny,
Elizabeth Morton, Molly Price, Bill Camp, John Glover

Scenic Design: Jo Mielziner
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Hair & Wig Design: David Brian Brown
Makeup Design: Ivana Primorac
Casting: Melcap Casting
Original Music: Alex North
Scenic Design Prepared by Brian Webb
Music Supervisor: Glenn Kelly
Fight Director: Thomas Scholl
Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Production Management: Aurora Productions
General management: STP/Patrick Gracey
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 21, 2012

Full disclosure, my father was a traveling salesman with heavy black sample cases, driving the fast decreasing New England territory, overnighting at the Parker House, and retiring sooner than planned. In my home office, proudly stands his large silver “Salesman of the Year” trophy, won at a company convention. Philip Seymour Hoffman presents an extraordinary tour de force performance as Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s precisely drawn salesman, who longs for the local territory to ease his aching back. From the moment Mr. Hoffman lumbers into his Brooklyn kitchen, at a snail’s pace, you know he is beaten, that it’s a matter of time until he implodes. The Loman home is small and modest, and Jo Mielziner’s original 1949 minimalist set has been re-constructed by Brian Webb, keeping its retro ambiance. Biff (Andrew Garfield) and Happy Loman’s (Finn Wittrock) bedroom is openly visible upstairs, but the doors and corners are so finely conceived that you at once seem to see the garage and open road, although they’re in your imagination. The tiny kitchen centers the stage, where Linda Loman (Linda Emond) toils away at her cooking, ironing, sewing, and counting the money needed to meet the monthly bills.

During one iconic scene, in which Mr. Hoffman is wooing a lady in his hotel room (the scenery allows for past memories and relationships to find spotlight in what would be the Lomans’ yard), Biff surprises his father in a traumatic visit. Mr. Hoffman’s studied mask tells it all about his depth of remorse and panic. His lame excuses fall aimlessly against the acrid air of Biff’s pain. The Woman (Molly Price) stridently giggles with her gift of silk stockings, a gift that Linda never received. Rather, Linda mends her stockings, while the shrill Woman seemingly gets it all. In the vignette, the Woman is gate-keeper to one of Willy’s biggest buyers. Willy’s past traumas also unfold in spotlighted memories with his diamond baron brother, Ben (a confident John Glover), who found his fortune out West. Ben serves as Willy’s tormented conscience, chiding him for not taking risks. Willy’s neighbor, Charley (Bill Camp), and Charley’s son, Bernard (Fran Kranz), somehow find fortune in private business with roots in Willy’s corner of 1940’s Brooklyn. Charley and Ben become evolving central characters, intrinsic to Willy’s daily survival, as Charley loans Willy pocket cash at ever increasing amounts.

Mike Nichols, a veteran director, has achieved miraculous results in fine-tuning Mr. Hoffman’s posture and facial gestures. Andrew Garfield’s gestures, as well, are astounding, such as in the hotel room scene, when he’s visibly crushed. A restaurant scene, when Biff and Happy leave Willy stranded to chase two flashy ladies out the door, while Willy leaves momentarily, is one of Nichols’ directorial high points. Willy has just failed in a monumental meeting with his boss, Howard Wagner (Remy Auberjonois), and he longs for Biff to have good news on a business proposition. Instead he ambles home, hungry and wasted. Mr. Nichols has also directed Ms. Emond to be the quintessential backbone that keeps the Lomans’ lights on, refrigerator full, and roof over their head. She’s a retro homemaker, emotional and pragmatic, putting her own needs last, devoted tirelessly to a marriage with its endless disappointments and distress. Ann Roth’s costumes are modest (the Lomans), stylish (the successful neighbors and Willy’s boss), and outlandish (Ben). Fabric and color are quintessentially a propos. Alex North’s original music is authentically recreated in Scott Lehrer’s sound design, in highly effective interludes. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting is dim and warm. Kudos to Arthur Miller, kudos to Mike Nichols, and kudos to all.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at