Few playwrights have captured the extremes by which Americans define themselves through success as Arthur Miller did in Death of a Salesman. For those of us lucky enough to have read it or seen it performed, the play can't help but touch a chord. If Death of a Salesman has slipped your radar, you're in luck. Ironweed Productions brings the play, in all its dystopian glory, to the Santa Fe Playhouse Thursday, July 16 to Sunday, Aug. 2.
Death of a Salesman is one of those plays easily found in any theatrical library. It has, for all intents and purposes, made the canon. So it's no wonder artistic director Scott Harrison was idly ruminating about the drama while on a hike a couple years back, as it's one of those plays that easily lends itself to idle rumination. He ended up staging a reading of the play with actors from around town, and from there, Ironweed decided to make it a formal production.
Not that Salesman is a new theme for Ironweed, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. "Through the different plays we've done, there's a common thread of dealing with the myth of the American dream. We tackle what it means to be an American success," Harrison says.
On the staging of this particular production, Harrison notes, "Our set is kind of a huge shell of a head. Everything happens inside of it. With the set design team, we've tried to create a fluid world where the stage is basically the home of the main character, Willy. The hotel scene happens in his bed. The restaurant scene happens at his kitchen table. There are lighting and sound shifts to let the audience know where they are, but it's one of those things where the house transforms into wherever Willy is."
The move, he says, is a premeditated one.
"It's porous, because Willy's mind is porous. He travels seamlessly in his thoughts between past and present," Harrison says. "In the staging and design, we've worked to underscore that idea."
The cast includes several returnees to Ironweed: Campbell Martin, Mary Beth Lindsey, Larry Glaister, Jonathan Dixon and Todd Anderson. Also featured are several actors new to the company but well-known within the Santa Fe theater community, including Elizabeth Wiseman, Peter Chapman, Jonathan Harrell, Nicholas Ballas, Warren Houghteling, Kirste Plunket, Jody Durham and Maureen Dolan. It's worth noting several of the cast participated in the initial staged reading two year ago.
"The message of the play is the power of seeing yourself as you are, not who you should be or who you wish you could be," Harrison adds.
As the audience watches Willy, a traveling salesman, wrangle with the defeat of another failed business trip, an odyssey of hope and disillusion unravels. Willy's son Biff returns home, adding fuel to the fire, as Biff, whose future once seemed endlessly fruitful, is now a down-and-out drifter. Lost dreams and harsh realities clash in a stunning conclusion.
"Interestingly, I think Biff is the real protagonist because he takes the longest journey, growing up in a family where no one's centered in who they are. Biff comes out in the end being at peace with who he is and in a way being set free," Harrison says. "I think there's real power in coming to a sense of peace with who you are and finding freedom."
Death of a Salesman
7 pm Thursday, July 16 (preview), 23 and 30, $10;
7 pm Fridays July 17 (gala opening, $25), 24 and 31;
Saturdays July 18, 25 and Aug. 1; 2 pm
Sundays July 19 and 26, Aug. 2, $20.
Santa Fe Playhouse,
142 E De Vargas St.,