Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2016’

Death of a Salesman given an ambitious staging by the Palo Alto Players.

(l-r) Ben (John Musgrave ), teaches Biff (Paul Dunlap) on the floor not to trust anyone with Linda (Gay Richard ) and Willy (Tim Farrell ) standing by in Death of a Salesman by The Palo Alto Players.

(l-r) Ben (John Musgrave ), teaches Biff (Paul Dunlap) on the floor not to trust anyone with Linda (Gay Richard ) and Willy (Tim Farrell ) standing by in Death of a Salesman by The Palo Alto Players.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN: Drama by Arthur Miller. Directed by Kristen Lo. Palo Alto Players, Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 9430. 650-329-0891 or January 15 – 21, 2016.

Death of a Salesman given an ambitious staging by the Palo Alto Players. Rating: ★★★☆☆

For their third production of their 85th season the Palo Alto Players have teamed up with the staff and alumni of Gunn High School to stage Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize play Death of a Salesman. They have brought aboard acclaimed local director and High School educator Kristen Lo to direct and also to take a minor role in the play. It is an ambitious undertaking since award winning actors have put their stamp on the major role of Willy Loman.

The play became an instant American classic when it first appear on the stage in 1949 with Lee J. Cobb turning in a spectacular performance as Willy Loman the salesman who lived on a “smile and a shoeshine.” Frederic March (1951) added his touch to the role garnering an Oscar nomination in the black and white movie. Since that time, the much sought after role has attracted such luminaries as George C. Scott (1975), Dustin Hoffman (1984), Brian Dennehy in 1999 and Philip Seymour Hoffman 2012. Locally in 2008 at the 6th Street Playhouse Golden Globe nominated Daniel Benzali as Willy received a standing ovation at the curtain call.

There was no standing ovation at the Sunday matinee the day after opening night of Death of the Salesman at the Lucie Stern Theater but there was appreciative applause for the total production. In the multiple stagings seen by this reviewer Willy Loman was depicted as a dominating self-deluded individual whose internal and external world collapses with tragic consequences. Tim Farrell plays Willy as a pathetic individual never displaying the domineering written in the script. This may be a directorial decision that would be acceptable if there were more nuances in the acting.

The play is non-linear with the present action occupying only 24 hours in the contentious lives of the Loman family leading to the dramatic conclusion signified by the title. The play can be considered a memory play since segments of the action take place in Willy’s mind with imaginary conversations with dead brother Uncle Ben (“When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle. And by twenty-one, I walked out. And by God, I was rich!”). Author Miller’s stage directions ask for specific set constructions and scenic designer Janny Coté has complied. The multi-area, multilevel design takes up the entire stage with no solid walls allowing effective light design by Ed Hunter as the story moves adroitly between reality and fantasy and between shifts in time. Miller decries the use of the word “flashbacks” insisting they are “mobile concurrences.”

Reams of text are written about the many levels of meaning within the play starting with the elusive American Dream that Willy is pursuing. For Willy the pursuit of monetary gain is less important than being liked. He sanctifies the business of salesmanship and he wishes to emulate a highly successful, respected acquaintance “He died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers…” His desire for his sons is dashed when athletic Biff inexplicably gives up and travels west in search of space and Happy is content with the world of women. Willy returns from a trip completely broken in spirit only to confront Biff who has returned. The consequences of the father son confrontation are the catalyst that allows Miller to weave his tale that is well known and needs no repeating.

Director Kristen Lo’s attempts to keep the actors in balance are hampered by the uneven quality of the acting. However, accolades go to Bill C. Jones as neighbor Charlie, John Musgrave as Uncle Ben, Todd Summers as young and older Bernard and Justin Brown as the womanizer Happy. Tim Farrell’ s acting gives a different spin on Willy Loman’s character that reduces the cataclysmic ending. Gay Richard’s shift from the younger/older Linda Loman requires more than the donning and removal of a white wig.

Running time about 2 hours and 45 minutes including an intermission.

CAST: Willy Loman – Tim Farrell; Linda Loman – Gay Richard; Biff Loman – Paul Dunlap; Happy Loman – Justin Brown; Charley – Bill C. Jones; Bernard – Todd Summers; Uncle Ben – John Musgrave; The Woman – Jen Ellington; Howard, Stanley – Brian Flegel; Jenny, Letta – Janine Evans; Ms. Forsythe – Kristen Lo.

ARTISTIC TEAM: Director – Kristen Lo; Assistant Director – Alan Hanson; Set Designer & Technical Director – Janny Coté; Costume Designer – Melissa Sanchez; Lighting Designer – Ed Hunter; Sound Designer – Jeff Grafton; Properties Designer – Pat Tyler; Stage Manager – Jessie Ploog; Production Manager – David Murphy; Artistic Director – Patrick Klein

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

(l-r) Ben ( ), teaches Biff ( ) on the floor not to trust anyone with Linda ( ) and Willy ( ) standing by in Death of a Salesman by The Palo Alto Players.

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