The play opens with a massive neon sign shining ‘Land of the free’, makeshift-looking above the Lomans’ room. Reminiscent of cheap advertisements, and ambiguous as to whether it’s promisingly gleaming or threatening to blackout, it instils audience distrust of its message: what wiles will people use to trick me into believing this, to trust in something so temporary? Light is expertly used. In Willy’s surreal memories, his sons Biff and Happy Loman (George Taylor and Ben Deery) walk as shadows behind a wall in warm, gold light. This produces an ancient, primeval feeling of the dangerous wild, that from prehistory people have experienced the same things which run in our blood. This provides comfort and doom. Is tragedy in our genes? This increases our attachment to them as one would be attached to another in the wild. Every time they ran downstage afterwards with their spritely jubilance, I felt surprising emotion, like a switch had been flicked and hope was on, as it was for Willy when he remembered them.
This idea of connection is evoked through Deery and Taylor’s dancelike movement. When one of them sits a certain way, the other does too soon after, showing that them trying to escape tragedy through hope is futile, it’s not something that just happens to others. Willy (Nicholas Woodeson) has constant jarring mood shifts through which his wife Linda (Tricia Kelly) maintains a light, fragile positivity, disregarding harsh moments. This characterizes her love as not fluctuating with current incidents, but as one removed and unchangeable. This unconditional, godly quality is evoked in the staging’s religious motifs. Uncle Ben (Mitchell Mullen), a diamond tycoon more successful than Willy, walks up stairs on a fridge’s back and delivers a speech over the top, like a priest’s sermon from a pulpit, bringing into focus the loneliness Willy feels when the memory ends. It is a tragedy that he doesn’t see that in his wife, and literally worships the past.
The grey back walls of the set open out and the memories’ characters disappear through. What darkness, unknown and unseen, is at the back of things? These characters’ laughs sound bitter or forced, a survival mechanism, not a real emotion. This questions whether the love and joy they show are real or a desperate attempt to perform actions that were once connected to a truth they don’t feel any more. The casual, loneliness-inducing tones of people apart from Willy convey how much sadness and anger springs from painful eagerness for joy. Biff’s crying, enacted with meat-raw emotion, is the most certain sign of hope. That raises a contentious question about Willy’s ultimate suicide: was it his very vitality that caused it? Is despair proof of goodness and hope? In memories other characters become still as Willy holds onto a fixed and thus fantastical memory. Throughout, the high intensity in the acting does not produce audience desensitization. Tricia Kelly, however, was unconvincing in acting out emotional scenes apart from at the end, something very noticeable with the excellence of the others’ acting.
Abigail Graham’s magical adaptation made me wonder: how many of my emotions are always suppressed, unexplored, waiting for me to find them? It made me simultaneously afraid of the unknown and somehow, in the moment, not afraid of growing old anymore.
Guest Reviewer: James Sullivan