Death of a Salesman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Death of a Salesman 

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Death of a Salesman, Raven Theatre.

It can still chill an audience to watch Willy Loman figure out he's worth more dead than alive. Arthur Miller's three-hour masterpiece relentlessly exposes an all-too-American family who cease even to dysfunction when the money runs out and the father can't play his sole role, that of breadwinner: Miller strips Willy of a lifetime of lies. Forty-six years after it hit Broadway, this common-man tragedy continues to indict a downsizing America, a place where people like 60-year-old Willy keep saying, "I'm still feeling. . . temporary about myself."

New truths spring from every revival of Miller's inexhaustible work. Michael Menendian's sturdy Raven Theatre staging is notably good at showing how paralyzed the Lomans are by the dreams that keep them from the truth. It's also a revelation that the failures of both Willy and his son Biff are self-fulfilling, stemming from one terrible discovery made the summer Biff should have graduated from high school.

Though no Raven Theatre actor is entirely successful in this Mount Everest of a play, each captures enough of the role to set fire to the production. Tom Higgins is an elegiac and forlorn Willy, a guilt-ridden, clueless wreck who frustratingly never comes close to exposing himself. Esther McCormick's rock-solid wife conveys Linda's ferocious, much-tested loyalty but doesn't build her big speeches to the breaking point. Brian McCaskill offers a conventionally unhappy Happy, but Benjamin Werling's elegantly tortured Biff seems oddly cerebral; the canny guy Werling suggests would have revealed himself years before he does in the play.

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